Egypt's Coptic Christians Protest A Year After 27 Died

Thousands of Coptic Christians marched through central Cairo on Tuesday to demand justice for the more than two dozen Copts who were killed a year ago when army units moved in to stop their protest.

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In Cairo today, several thousand Christians paraded through the streets. They gathered to mark the first anniversary of a similar march, one that ended in bloodshed. That day, 27 Coptic Christians were killed by Egyptian soldiers. And as Merritt Kennedy reports from Cairo...

And as Merrit Kennedy reports from Cairo, today's protesters demanded justice for the dead.

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MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: Women in white dresses walk in formation, holding up images of each person who died one year ago as the long procession winds its way through the streets of central Cairo. This procession followed the same route as last year's march when Christians called on the military council in power at the time to protect them from attacks by radical Islamists. But last year's march ended in unprecedented and unprovoked use of force by the army.

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KENNEDY: Videos posted on YouTube showed soldiers firing on the marchers as armored personnel carriers careened wildly through the packed crowd, crushing several people. The military denied firing on the marchers, and army spokesmen claimed that some of the protesters were armed.

That night, the victims were rushed to the Coptic Hospital, where the dead were prepared for burial. Family and friends waited in the crowded courtyard. Some were screaming in grief. Some were visibly furious. But many appeared simply stunned. A year later, Mona Amer, an economics professor at Cairo University, says the incident was devastating for Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the population.

MONA AMER: (Through Translator) There was a huge effect on the community because, well, of course, this act of killing was because they were Copts. So, of course, the Copts felt persecuted.

MINA MAGDY: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: Mina Magdy, a student, says all he wants is justice for those who died, but so far, he hasn't seen much of it. After last year's incident, three low-level soldiers were imprisoned for involuntary manslaughter, but Magdy and others here say that is not enough. Ishaq Ibrahim is a researcher on religious freedom at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He says it was difficult to hold the military accountable because the trial was conducted in a military court.

ISHAQ IBRAHIM: (Through Translator) The officers and leaders ordered the killing and, at the same time, they are the judges. This causes a lot of doubt concerning the court's decisions.

KENNEDY: At the time of the incident, a council of generals ruled Egypt. But now, Egypt has a democratically elected President, and there is a new push to put high-ranking military officials on trial for last year's bloodshed. A coalition of 33 political parties and movements announced on Sunday that it had filed a new case against five top military leaders, including Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who headed the ruling military council during the transitional period.

IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: Ishaq Ibrahim says as long as they keep up the pressure on the new president, he will eventually be forced to order a fair and transparent investigation. For NPR News, I'm Merrit Kennedy in Cairo.

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