CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian criminal court acquitted three Muslim men accused of stripping naked an elderly Coptic Christian woman and parading her through the streets of a village in southern Egypt in 2016, the state’s official news agency reported.
The three had been sentenced to 10 years in absentia in January, before they were detained and stood a retrial for the attack in the southern province of Minya, where an armed Muslim mob had attacked the 70-year-old woman four years ago, after rumors spread that her son was having an affair with a Muslim woman. Such relations are taboo in conservative Egypt.
The court handed down the verdict as the retrial of the three concluded on Thursday.
Egypt’s chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, on Friday instructed his legal team to look into a possible appeal, the state MENA news agency reported.
The May 2016 attack shocked the country. At the time, Anba Makarios, Minya’s top Christian cleric, told a talk show host on the private Dream TV network that the woman was dragged out of her home by the mob who beat her and insulted her before they stripped her off her clothes and forced her to walk through the streets as they chanted Allahu Akbar, or “God is great.”
It also elicited a storm of condemnation on social media where users blamed the incident on the strong influence in the area of ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis. In the same eruption of sectarian violence, seven Christian homes were looted and torched in the Minya village of Karma.
Christians, who make up almost 10% of Egypt’s population of more than 100 million have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority.
Also Friday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the “deteriorating” human rights conditions in Egypt. The resolution came on the heels of the Italian prosecutors’ decision to formally put four high-ranking members of Egypt’s security forces under investigation for the 2016 kidnapping, torture and killing of 28-year-old Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt.
Egypt’s parliament promptly denounced the resolution as unacceptable. The measure accuses Egyptian authorities of “misleading” and “hindering” progress in the investigation and called on EU member states to pressure Egypt to cooperate with Italian judicial authorities to allow for a formal indictment of the four suspects. However, such resolutions from the European Parliament have little significance as foreign affairs are left to each member state.
As late as last month, Egyptian prosecutors were insisting that Regeni’s killer remains unknown. Authorities have alleged the Cambridge University doctoral student fell victim to ordinary robbers.
The EU parliament resolution also listed a set of human rights violations recorded in Egypt since last year and condemned the recent crackdown on the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the country’s few remaining advocacy groups.