Egyptian Christians Bridle at Prison Terms for Copts Only in Fatal Clash

Three Coptic Christians in Egypt were given long prison sentences on Sunday over the death of a Muslim in a sectarian clash even though no one has been prosecuted in the deaths of at least five Christians in the same clash, raising allegations that the military-backed government was breaking its promise to curb bias against Christians.

Beshoy Tamry, a Coptic Christian activist with the Maspero Youth Union, said many Christians had hoped for more equitable treatment after Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in July. “But today proved that nothing changed,” he said. “The regime has not changed its system of using the judiciary against Christians.”

The clashes began in April in Khusus, a town north of Cairo, after Muslim children spray-painted a swastika on the wall of an Islamic institute, according to local news reports. Some local Muslims wrongly blamed their Christian neighbors and attacked them.

At least six Muslims were convicted on Sunday of vandalizing churches and Christian property in Khusus and given sentences of three or five years. But no one has been charged in the deaths of the five Christians. By contrast, one Christian was sentenced to 25 years in prison and two others to 15 years for their roles in the death of one Muslim in the same fight, state news media reported.

The events in Khusus set off the worst outbreak of sectarian violence in Egypt during Mr. Morsi’s year in office. Two days later, angry Christians emerged from a funeral at the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo and were met by a crowd of Muslims from the area. The Christians were forced back onto the cathedral grounds, and scores of young men on each side hurled rocks and firebombs for several hours; some fired birdshot and, in a few instances, handguns. Police officers who had arrived stood among the crowd outside the cathedral and fired tear gas onto the grounds.

A more deadly episode erupted before Mr. Morsi’s tenure, in the period of direct military rule after the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. In October that year, military and security forces clashed with demonstrators outside the Maspero state media building, most of them Coptic Christians; more than two dozen were killed, including some crushed by military vehicles. Three soldiers were convicted of manslaughter in those deaths, and each was sentenced to less than three years in prison.

Another burst of sectarian violence followed Mr. Morsi’s ouster. Islamists blamed Christians for the military takeover and mounted a wave of attacks on churches across the country.