CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)-- Rights activists have condemned the sentencing of two Coptic Christians to three years imprisonment for "seizing" a soldier's rifle during a deadly October 2011 crackdown on Coptic protesters in Egypt.
"The men appear to have been convicted on very little evidence," said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in a reaction to the February 4 ruling.
The North Cairo Criminal Court ruled that Maikel Adel Nagib Farag and Medhat Shaker were guilty of stealing a soldier's machine gun during clashes in which some 28 Christian demonstrators died and over 200 others were injured.
Military officials claimed an undisclosed number of its soldiers were also killed in the violence.
Copts had been protesting outside state television headquarters in the capital Cairo against an arson attack on a church when troops tried to disperse them and later shot and crushed protesters with armored cars, according to witnesses.
The military, then in power, reportedly convicted and jailed three of its soldiers for involvement in what became known as the Maspero Massacre, but has not confirmed the sentences.
The two Copts sentenced this week were among 34 people detained during the clashes on October 9, 2011 and were formally charged the next day.
Trial observers said Naguib and Shaker were initially accused of "incitement, stealing weapons from the armed forces, attempting to break into the state television building and damaging public and private property."
However CSW expressed doubts about the evidence. "For example, Maikel Adel Naguib Farag was initially arrested at his home on November 3, 2011," CSW recalled.
"Prosecutors claimed that the taxi driver who had driven him home had seen him carrying a gun bundled in a plastic bag. After his home was searched, he was reportedly beaten and taken away in his underwear. The only evidence brought against him at trial was the word of the taxi driver," CSW said.
CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston told BosNewsLife that his group remains "deeply concerned at the quality of the evidence brought against Maikel Adel Naguib Farag and Maikel Mossad Shaker in this case, which appears insufficient to justify a guilty verdict."
He said that 15 after "the Maspero Massacre, there remain unanswered questions about the military’s actions on that day, and justice continues to elude the families of the civilians who died at the hands of the army."
The protest also underscored concerns among Egypt's minority Copts about a rise in Islamic attacks during the military-led transition between an uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and the June 2012 election of Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi as his successor.
Scores of people have also died in recent weeks in protests against Morsi's rule. The violence overshadowed the second anniversary of the revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.
However the October, 2011, clashes were especially shocking to the Coptic minority, which comprises up to 10 percent of Egypt's 83 million people, because it involved the army.
"We continue to call for a full, transparent and independent judicial inquiry into the massacre at Maspero, including an investigation of the allegedly inciting role played by state media," Johnston said.
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