An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced two monks to death over the murder of a bishop, a judicial source said, in a case that shocked the Middle East’s largest Christian community.
Coptic Bishop Epiphanius was found dead with a head wound in July at the Saint Macarius monastery in the plains of Wadi al-Natrun, northwest of Cairo.
Prosecutors said one of the monks Isaiah confessed to striking the abbot with a metal bar as the second monk Philotheos kept watch.
The authorities blamed the killing on unspecified “differences” between the two monks, one of whom was later defrocked, and the bishop. The sentence against the two monks was referred to Egypt’s Grand Mufti.
The country’s top theological authority is required by law to give its legally non-binding opinion in cases of capital punishment.
The defendants can appeal the verdict after the Mufti gives an opinion and the ruling is officially issued on April 24.
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 per cent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 100 million.
The country’s vast desert is home to some of Christianity’s most ancient monasteries.