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Christians Jailed After Scuffle Over Conversion To Islam Ordered Freed

January 4, 1994

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ A court ordered the release Tuesday of six Coptic Christians jailed without charge for seven weeks for fighting with a church member who wanted to convert to Islam.

The case highlights the tension between minority Copts and Muslims as Islamic radicals seek to topple Egypt’s government and establish an Islamic state. Muslims often complain they are jailed for long periods without charge.

Lawyers for the Christians said the policeman who made the arrests in the Nov. 13 scuffle is a Muslim who has been influenced by extremists. The lawyers blamed the officer for delaying the release.

The officer arrested a Coptic lay preacher, his son and four friends following the fight triggered by Magdy Boutrous’ decision to convert from Christianity to Islam. The scuffle in the mostly Coptic neighborhood of Shubra el-Kheima slightly injured three people.

The arrest order, issued by Lt. Col. Salah el-Azizy, said the incident ″angered some Muslims.″

The men, including Boutrous, were held for investigation until the Higher State Security Court accepted their appeal for release Tuesday. Boutrous appealed separately and is expected to be freed soon.

Maurice Sadek, a lawyer for the Copts, said el-Azizy delayed their release.

El-Azizy said in a statement that the long detention was necessary to maintain public order.

Copts comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s 58 million people.

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