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  June 19, 2001

Egyptian Editor Charged With Sedition


Filed at 9:32 a.m. ET

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Egyptian officials filed sedition and incitement charges Tuesday against a newspaper editor who outraged the country's Christian Copts by publishing an article about an alleged monastery sex scandal.

The charges against Mamdouh Mahran of the weekly Al-Nabaa followed demonstrations by the Copts, who said the article and accompanying photographs were an insult to their faith. The photos purportedly showed an excommunicated monk having sex at a Coptic monastery.

On Tuesday, Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Church, said ``sins were certainly committed,'' but not in the monastery.

In addition to sedition, head prosecutor Hesham Bedawi charged Mahran with ``undermining public security and social peace'' and ``incitement against a Christian sect in Egypt and attempts to harm its reputation,'' judicial officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Atef Obeid also banned Al-Nabaa and its sister publication, Akher Khabar.

In his first comments on the incident, Shenouda III denied that ex-monk Adel Saadallah Gabriel had sex in the 4th-century monastery and accused Al-Nabaa of ``exploiting a personal mistake to slander the monastery.''

``This is unacceptable. It is an insult not to the monastery but to the church and all Copts,'' Shenouda told state-run television.

``They (the newspaper) tried to hint to the readers that the mistakes occurred inside the monastery,'' he said. ``All those sins were certainly committed outside the monastery because the monastery is under strong supervision and cannot be a place to sin.''

Judicial officials said Mahran, who was taken into custody Monday, underwent 12 hours of questioning that ended early Tuesday. He was released on $2,500 bail. Mahran's assistants said he was unavailable for comment because he was resting after the questioning.

Police arrested the former monk last week in Assiut, 180 miles south of Cairo, and brought him to Cairo for questioning about allegations he lured women into having sex with him inside the monastery and then blackmailed them with videos of their alleged encounters.

Some victims allegedly paid as much as $104,000 or nine pounds of gold and jewelry in exchange for the videos.

The monastery in Assiut was built on a site Copts believe was visited by Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus when they fled to Egypt.

Coptic Christians comprise about 10 percent of Egypt's 67 million people. They complain of discrimination in the mostly Muslim country, particularly over civil service jobs.

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