A Coptic Christian soldier reported to have died by accident ten days ago was in fact killed, his family say.
The family of 22-year-old Mikhail Farhat Saad Tamer were called to collect his body from the police station in Al-Qusiyyah, Asyut Governorate, on 23 April. But when they arrived, they were shocked to find it wrapped inside a black bag, rather than in a coffin adorned with an Egyptian flag, and accompanied only by a conscript, not an officer, Mikhail’s brother Milad told World Watch Monitor.
Milad said they considered this an “insult” and “humiliation”.
“The Muslim conscript who accompanied the body just gave us Mikhail’s death certificate, on which the cause of his death was written ‘gunshot’, and the burial permit,” Milad told World Watch Monitor. “We did not receive any medical report to indicate the cause of the death.
“We then asked the Muslim conscript how Mikhail died and he told us that he heard that while Mikhail had been cleaning the parts of his military automatic weapon, a bullet came out of the gun and entered his body, resulting in immediate death.”
The family initially refused to receive the body, insisting they would not do so unless they were told the “truth” about Mikhail’s death. However, officials told them that if they did not take the body, it would be taken to the hospital morgue and an Al-Qusiyyah police officer assured them an investigation was underway.
Mikhail’s body was then transferred to Al-Qusiyyah central hospital for the family to wash and prepare for the funeral. While doing so, Milad said they noticed a bullet entry hole at the back of his neck, photos of which World Watch Monitor has seen.
“The bullet hole was slanting from bottom to top, and there was an exit hole in the lower jaw of the mouth,” Milad said. “He was shot from behind, at the back of his neck, and the bullet came out of the lower jaw. You could tell because the hole was much larger [which is typical for exit wounds].”
He also said the family saw no evidence a post-mortem had taken place.
The family has not been given any further update on the case, nor the medical report, and were asked by the officials investigating Mikhail’s death not to call them again.
Mikhail, who is from the Asyut village of Beni Edrees, was in his third year in the army and was stationed in El-Arish, capital of the governorate of North Sinai, where last year several Copts were murdered, causing others to flee.
“Mikhail told his family many times before that he had been annoyed and persecuted by some of the Muslim conscripts and leaders in his military unit because of his religious identity,” Milad said.
Mikhail’s cousin, who did not wish to be named, added: “The allegation of Mikhail’s military unit that a bullet came out of his gun while he was disassembling its parts to clean it is false. Any new conscript is taught how to do it during his first month in the military: that the first thing to be removed – and the last thing to be installed – in the gun is the magazine. Mikhail had spent more than two years in the military and surely had a good experience of it.”
The cousin added that if Mikhail were killed as alleged, the bullet would have entered from the front, not from behind.
“How come the bullet entered from the top of his back and came out of the lower jaw?” the cousin said. “That indicates that there is criminal suspicion behind Mikhail’s death.”
The family has tried to draw the Egyptian media’s attention to Mikhail’s case but received no response.
The local Coptic priest in the family’s village, Fr. Arsany El-Kommos Bishoy, described Mikhail as a “simple, humble and honest person”.
“He was a brave person and he kept his faith until the last breath,” he said. “He was killed because of his religious identity… If the perpetrator does not receive punishment on the Earth, he will not escape the punishment of Heaven… Our blood is not cheap.”
A growing trend
A human rights activist who also did not wish to be named described the killing of Coptic conscripts as a strikingly frequent phenomenon.
“Coptic conscripts are killed and the circumstances of the killing disappear with them – none of the perpetrators is held accountable,” the activist said. “They are killed by shooting, burning, poisoning or beating – also using torture machines of all kinds – amid the absence of fair and transparent investigations.”
The activist added that eyewitnesses in such crimes are often pressured not to speak out.
Mikhail’s funeral was held at his local church on 24 April and his body buried in the family cemetery.
“If Mikhail were killed during a terrorist attack, or while defending Egypt, we wouldn’t grieve and he would be a martyr of the homeland, but he was treacherously killed by someone inside his military unit,” his cousin said. “We appeal to the president to investigate this matter and reveal the truth in full transparency.”