An Egyptian court on Sunday postponed the trial of three Muslims accused of killing six Christians and another Muslim on the eve of Coptic Christmas in early January in the city of Naga Hammadi, some 600 kilometers south of Cairo.
Judicial sources said the trial was postponed until 19 October due to the absence of certain witnesses. They also said the court had fined Coptic Bishop Korollos LE200 for not attending an initial hearing even though he had received a subpoena.
Korollos accuses one of the defendants in the case of planning and carrying out the attack. He has also sharply criticized the security services for failing to protect church congregants.
The defense team, meanwhile, considers the trial unconstitutional, since it is being held in an emergency court.
The trial has sparked considerable controversy, since it represents the first time in decades for defendants in a sectarian case to be referred to the Supreme State Security Court, the verdicts of which can only be appealed by the president of the republic.
The defendants have been charged with using force to disrupt public order and intimidate the citizenry.
Prosecutors, for their part, say the defendants deserve the death penalty.
Both the United States and the European Union, meanwhile, have expressed concern over perceived sectarian tension in Egypt, calling on the Egyptian government to take adequate measures to combat the trend.
It is believed that Coptic Christians account for between 7 and 9 percent of Egypt’s 80-million-strong population.