The investigation should specifically address the killing of at least 17 Coptic Christian demonstrators who appear to have been run over by military vehicles, Human Rights Watch said. It should also examine the role of military and police officers in the violence. The demonstration, called to protest official inaction in the face of attacks on churches in Upper Egypt, reportedly became violent after people in civilian clothes attacked protesters with stones and sticks.
Human Rights Watch urged that independent judicial authorities - and not the military prosecutor - conduct the investigation. The military command has yet to investigate documented incidents of torture in March and excessive use of force in April that led to the death of a protester.
"Time and again since February, the Egyptian military has used excessive force in responding to protests," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The high death toll from the clashes on October 9 shows the urgent need for thorough investigations that lead to accountability and better protection for the Coptic community."
Coptic Christians, who made up the majority of protesters in the October 9 demonstration, were angered by the failure of authorities to investigate or prosecute those responsible for recent attacks on Christians and their places of worship. The protest was responding specifically to the absence of an investigation into an attack on a church on September 30 in Mar Girgis, in the Upper Egypt governorate of Aswan.
On March 4, 2011, in the town of Atfih, 21 kilometers south of Cairo, a mob attacked the Two Martyrs church, burning and badly damaging it, reportedly because of an alleged affair between a Muslim woman and Coptic Christian man. On March 8 Christians in the eastern Cairo suburb of Muqattam protested the Atfih arson and clashed with Muslim counter-demonstrators. Twelve people died in the ensuing violence in which several Christian homes and businesses were torched. The public prosecutor has yet to conclude an investigation into those incidents or refer a case to court. In May, violence outside a Coptic church in Cairo's Imbaba neigborhood left 12 dead.
Human Rights Watch urged Egyptian authorities to conduct serious investigations into these attacks and hold those responsible to account. The authorities should also enforce a strict prohibition on religious discrimination and urgently issue a new law, as promised in May, to allow Copts to fully exercise their right to freedom of worship.