Egypt drops investigation into mob attack on Christian woman
Prosecutors in Egypt's central governorate of Minya have suspended investigations into an assault on a Coptic Christian woman, who was stripped naked and paraded in the streets by a Muslim mob last May.
The attack on Souad Thabet in the village of Karma in Minya followed a rumour that her son had an affair with a Muslim woman - a taboo in Muslim majority and conservative Egypt.
The armed Muslim mob that assaulted the 70-year-old woman also looted and torched seven Christian houses.
The prosecutors cited lack of sufficient evidence, according to Thabet's lawyer, Eihab Ramzy, who described Saturday's decision as "a calamity".
"The preliminary investigation heard testimonies supporting her account from family members and policemen at the scene," he told The Associated Press.
Ramzy also told Egyptian website Mada Masr that prosecutors deemed the case insufficient for referral to court after a key witness, Thabet's neighbour who took her in after the attack, withdrew her testimony due to external pressure.
The lawyer added that the prosecution did not investigate why the witness recanted her testimony, or whether she was under pressure to retract what she said.
Evaluating evidence is up to the court, not the prosecution, making Saturday's decision "unprecedented", Ramzy said.
Thabet had told a US-based Christian TV station that she and her family are unable to return home to this day because of threats by Muslim extremists in the village, while facing pressure from local authorities to reconcile with them, according to Ramzy.
"The government is allowing the oppressors to walk free on the streets," she said.
"This is our village that we were born and raised in ... How can we be the victims and not be able to return to our village and homes?"
Shortly after the attack, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vowed to bring the culprits to justice.
"We are all one and the law must take its course," he said in comments broadcast live on local TV at the time.
A presidential statement issued then praised the role of "glorious Egyptian women" and said "the rights and the protection of their dignity are a humanitarian and patriotic commitment before being a legal and constitutional one".
Sisi has since taking office in 2014 been reaching out to the religious leadership of Egypt's Christian minority.
Earlier this month, during his third successive year in attendance at a Coptic Christmas Mass at Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral, Sisi vowed to build Egypt's largest church and mosque to stand together "side by side" in the Egyptian capital.
Last month, he led a state funeral for the victims of a suicide bombing in a Cairo church that killed nearly 30 people, mostly women.
Discrimination against Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, is subtle in big cities like Cairo or Alexandria, but becomes much more pronounced in provinces like Minya, which is home to at least a third of Egypt's Christian population.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has recorded at least 77 attacks on Coptic Christians between 2011 and 2016 in Minya.