NGOs ask to stay the execution of a monk sentenced in Egypt for the murder of his bishop.
by Daniela Bovolenta
It was the perfect true crime story. In the early morning of July 29, 2018, 64-year-old Coptic Bishop Epiphanius was found dead outside his cell in the Monastery of Saint Makarios, in Wadi El Natrun, Beheira Province, Egypt. His skull was fractured, and the police immediately concluded he had been killed.
The Egyptian police learned that two monks, Father Isaiah and Father Faltaous, had quarreled with Epiphanius in the previous weeks. There had been even talks of Faltaous leading a splinter group outside of the monastery.
Isaiah and Faltaous were arrested and committed to trial, and the police claimed Isaiah, whose civil name is Wael Tawadros, had been the killer. Lawyers and relatives of the defendants told NGOs and Bitter Winter that the prosecution was biased from the beginning. One witness, a monk who would testify in favor of Isaiah, died mysteriously in another monastery, perhaps poisoned.
Claiming that monks were guilty ruled out other possibilities and favored a narrative depicting Coptic monasteries as plagued by corruption and even murder. There was ample evidence, Bitter Winter was told, that Isiah was tortured in jail and compelled to confess.
He told the judges as much. As Amnesty International reported, Isaiah claimed that “police officers stripped him naked, then took him to the monastery and told him to wear his monk robe. He was then beaten, given electric shocks, and ordered to act out the alleged murder on camera. Wael Tawadros [Isaiah] said that when a judge ordered that he be taken to hospital for a medical test, the officer ordered a medical worker to write that he was fine.” The NGO notes that confessions under torture are unfortunately common in Egypt.
Inconsistencies also appeared in the report of the coroner, which reportedly was changed more than once to fit the prosecutors’ needs.
These problems were ignored, and Isaiah and Faltaous (whose civil name is Farag Raymon Rasmi Mansour) were tried by the Court of Damanhur, found guilty, and sentenced to death on April 24, 2019.
The Supreme Court of Cassation, whose hearing on July 1, 2020 lasted only 15 minutes, confirmed the death sentence by hanging for Isaiah, but commuted it to life imprisonment for Faltaous.
The monks got no help from the Coptic authorities, who are in a difficult situation and probably very much concerned that the incident will result in further discrimination against Christians in Egypt. In fact, Isaiah was quickly defrocked at the very beginning of the investigation.
According to Isaiah’s brother, “Father Isaiah is being held in Wadi El Natrun prison, while Father Faltaous is being held in the prison hospital at Borg El-Arab Prison. Officials at Wadi El Natrun prison are preventing Father Isaiah from practicing religious rituals. Meanwhile, officials at Borg El-Arab Prison are denying Father Faltaous medical care in the midst of a global pandemic. Father Faltaous is immuno-compromised and thus at serious risk of fatally contracting the virus while in detention. The prisons are unclean and are infested with insects. Both men are currently being denied any access to their families.”
Only a strong and quick international reaction may save the life of Isaiah, who is on death row and may be executed at any time.