Amnesty International this week called upon Egyptian authorities to explain how a Coptic Christian protest against religious discrimination on Sunday became a “bloodbath".

In what the organisation describes as the worst violence Egypt has seen since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February, Amnesty said at least 25 people were killed and more than 200 people wounded when authorities attacked demonstrators protesting against an attack on a Coptic church in Aswan province on 30th September.

Amnesty reported that video footage showed military vehicles running over protesters and say witnesses described how security forces in armoured vehicles opened fire into the crowd.

Amnesty reported that video footage showed military vehicles running over protesters and say witnesses described how security forces in armoured vehicles opened fire into the crowd.

The Egyptian military said that a group of protestors started the violence by shooting at them, a charge denied by the protestors. Some reports suggested that members of the disbanded National Democratic Party, Mr Mubarak’s political party, were behind the violence.

The organisation said the country’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) “must show it can and will rein in the security forces and ensure they do not use excessive force”.

“Instructions to security forces must be immediately issued and an independent investigation opened,” they said in a statement.

The Egyptian military, who have said that a group of protestors started the violence, said they intended to open an investigation. On Monday SCAF ordered the establishment of a fact-finding commission to investigate the incident while the Public Prosecutor started preliminary investigations.

In an address to the nation on Monday, Egyptian prime minister Essam Sharaf said the clashes between army forces and Coptic Christian protesters had brought the country back to the kind of violence seen at the onset of the revolution. "Instead of going forward, we found ourselves scrambling for security," said Sharaf.

Amnesty said any investigation must be “independent, thorough, and impartial”. “The investigation cannot be in the hands of the army and must be truly independent, and seen as such for the witnesses and the families of the victims to trust that they can safely provide evidence and expect more than a whitewash.”

Amnesty have also expressed concern over the reporting of the issue by state television, saying it may have exacerbated the situation. 

Meanwhile in Australia, Coptic Christians have reportedly called for the expulsion of the Egyptian ambassador over the incident.

Bishop Anba Suriel said at a press conference that Egypt had “failed dismally” to protect Christians. ''We are crying out to the world to look at the plight of the Copts and do something,” he was reported as saying in The Age newspaper.

Coptic Christians comprise about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80 million people.

Despite scenes of unity during the revolution, when Muslims joined Christians in protests against continuing sectarian violence and Christians were seen protecting Muslims during their prayers at Tahrir Square, attacks against Christian targets have continued in the wake of Mubarak’s stepping down. 

Prior to the recent attack, some 24 people had been killed, 200 injured, and three churches attacked during the first five months of the post-Mubarak regime.

Christians say they fear growing control by conservative Islamic groups. The second article of the Egyptian constitution declares Shari'a, or Islamic religious law, as the law of Egypt, leaving Christians fearful of their future place in the country if that provision is enforced. 

- with Judith Sudilovsky, ENInews