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Egypt court sentences one monk to death, another to life for abbot's killing

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Cairo (AFP)

An Egyptian court upheld a death sentence for one Coptic monk and life in prison for another over the killing of the abbot of a desert monastery in 2018, a judicial source said.

In a case that shocked the Middle East's largest religious minority, Bishop Epiphanius was found with a bleeding head wound after being bludgeoned to death in July 2018.

Epiphanius was the abbot of the Saint Macarius monastery in the plains of Wadi al-Natrun, northwest of the capital Cairo.

Prosecutors said one of the monks, Isaiah, confessed to beating the cleric with a metal bar as the second monk, Philotheos, kept watch.

Authorities blamed the killing on unspecified "differences" between the bishop and the two monks.

Isaiah, whose original name is Wael Saad Tawadros, was later defrocked.

An earlier sentence passed down in April 2019 condemned them both to death.

It was later referred to Egypt's Grand Mufti, the country's top theological authority, who is required by law to give his legally non-binding opinion in cases of capital punishment.

Wednesday's verdict, which cannot be appealed after the Cassation Court upheld it, reduced the sentence for Philotheos to life in prison.

The court said in last year's ruling the defendants had carried out "one of the greatest crimes", according to a court official.

"(Their) status as monks did not stop them from carrying out this crime, the place of the crime did not deter them, and they did not care about the advanced age of the victim or his religious status," it said.

In the wake of the bishop's killing, Egypt's Coptic Church placed a one-year moratorium on accepting new monks.

It also banned monks from social media, tightened financial controls and refocused attention on spiritual life.

Coptic Christians make up about 10-15 percent of Egypt's predominantly Sunni Muslim population of over 100 million.

The country's vast desert are home to some of Christianity's oldest monasteries.

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