Remembering The 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians Murdered By Daesh
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Remembering The 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians Murdered By Daesh

Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab
This article is more than 2 years old.

February 2019 marks the fourth anniversary of the murder of the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians by Daesh in Libya. The event might not be memorable for some. However, for those who saw it, it is difficult to forget the photograph of Daesh fighters marching the Coptic Orthodox Christians along the beach in orange prison suits. The photograph became a symbol for the barbarism of Daesh. 

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On February 12, 2015, Daesh released the seventh issue of its online propaganda and recruitment magazine Dabiq. The issue included photographs of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians who were abducted from Sirte, Libya. They were mainly poor migrant workers. The men were abducted between December 2014 and January 2015 and killed to avenge “Kamilia Shehata, Wafa Constantine, and other sisters” allegedly “tortured and murdered by the Coptic Church of Egypt.” Daesh fighters beheaded the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians. Apart from the photographs in Dabiq, Daesh published a video of the brutal murder online for everyone to see. 

Back in February 2015, Daesh had a prominent presence in many parts of Syria and Iraq, and their mass atrocities were infamous thanks to their self-promotion online. However, the murder of the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians was different. Daesh had previously perpetrated mass atrocities in failed or quasi-failed states like Iraq and Syria. This time, the atrocities were carried out in a functioning state, Libya. A mass atrocity of this scale should never have been allowed. Despite this, acts of persecution against Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya had begun even before Daesh established a presence in Libya in 2014. Daesh was never able to gain territory in Libya as they did in Syria or Iraq. As a result, the atrocities they carried out in Libya have not reached the same level. Nonetheless, in 2014, a militia group that pledged affiliation with Daesh began claiming responsibility for several attacks in Libya, including an attack which took place in the Corinthia Hotel in January 2015. 

To mark the fourth anniversary of the martyrdom of the 21 Coptic Othodix Christians, Archbishop Angaelos, the first Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, organized a gathering at Lambeth Palace in London. The event honored the memory of the murdered men and raised the issue of religious persecution around the world. The event also launched the book “The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs,” written by Martin Mosebach. 

While the event specifically focused on the murder of the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians by Daesh in Libya, it is crucial to emphasize that Coptic Orthodox Christian communities have been subjected to discrimination and persecution in other parts of the world and by other actors too. Indeed, Archbishop Angaelos has been a vocal advocate on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Christian communities and those who have experienced persecution, especially in Egypt.

The persecution of Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt has been severe for many years. The main source of the persecution, as indicated in the World Watch List, is Islamist extremism. Examples of the most severe atrocities include the 2017 Palm Sunday attacks that claimed the lives of least 27 people who died in an explosion at St. George’s Coptic church in Tanta. On the same day, a further 17 lives were lost in St Mark’s Coptic church in Alexandria. Another example was the December 11, 2016, explosion outside of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Abbassi that reportedly killed at least 25 people and injured over 50 people. In February 2017, Daesh called upon its supporters to target Coptic churches in Egypt, and so the communities continue to live in fear. The threat continues. 

Events such as the one organized in London are important to honor the memory of those 21 murdered by Daesh but also to raise the issue of the ongoing persecution of Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, and religious persecution in general. For as long as we fail to address the issue of religious persecution adequately, the future of religious groups, and especially religious minorities, remains under threat. 

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Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate, author and co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response. Ochab works on the topic of genocide, with specific focus

Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate, author and co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response. Ochab works on the topic of genocide, with specific focus on persecution of religious minorities around the world, with main projects including Daesh genocide in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram atrocities in West Africa, and the situation of religious minorities in South Asia. Ochab has written over 30 UN reports (including Universal Periodic Review reports) and has made oral and written submissions at the Human Rights Council sessions and the UN Forum on Minority Issues. Ochab authored the initiative and proposal to establish the UN International Day Commemorating Victims and Survivors of Religious Persecution. The initiative has led to the establishment of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on August 22. Follow @EwelinaUO