By Kara Fox and Muhammad Darwish
An Egyptian military court sentenced 17 people to death on Thursday over their involvement in the 2016 and 2017 bombings of three churches and a police checkpoint that killed more than 80 people, according to Ahram, an English language news site affiliated with state run daily Al-Ahram.
Nineteen others were sentenced to life in prison for the attacks, Ahram reported.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the April 2017 bombing of two Coptic Christian churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria. At least 45 people were killed in the strikes, which targeted the minority group on the first day of the faith’s Holy Week leading up to Easter.
In December 2016, another attack at a Coptic church in Cairo killed 25 people. ISIS also claimed responsibility for that attack.
While acknowledging the attacks were “utterly reprehensible,” human rights group Amnesty International criticized the verdict of the “unfair military trial,” saying it “will not deter further sectarian attacks.”
“Those accused of involvement in these heinous crimes must be retried in a civilian court in proceedings that comply with international human rights law and fair trial standards,” Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director Najia Bounaim said.
Coptic Christians face persecution and discrimination that has spiked since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
Coptic churches and homes have been set on fire, members of the Coptic minority have been physically attacked and their property has been looted, Amnesty International reported last year.
There is also little Christian representation in Egypt’s government.
Coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s 91 million residents. They base their theology on the teachings of the apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt, according to St. Takla Church in Alexandria, the capital of Coptic Christianity.