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An Egyptian court acquitted Thursday three defendants who stripped and dragged an elderly Coptic Christian woman through her village in 2016, a judicial source said.

Soad Thabet, 74, was paraded naked by a mob of violent vigiliantes after rumours surfaced that her son was having an affair with a Muslim woman.

The sectarian incident in Al-Karm village in Minya governorate, about 300 kilometres (200 miles) south of the capital Cairo, saw also homes of Christian families torched and villagers angrily calling for the expulsion of Copts.

Egypt’s Christians, the largest religious minority in the Middle East, make up 10-15 percent of the 100 million population.

The three defendants — a father and his two sons — were acquitted after a re-trial where they were initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Thursday’s verdict can be appealed, the judicial source added.

Local Coptic newspaper Watani reported Thabet was distraught upon hearing the verdict.

“After all these years, how can they be let off after they stripped me naked in front of everyone to see? What can I say? God will bring back my rights,” she said according to the publication.

Leading rights group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemned the verdict in a statement urging the public prosecution to lodge an appeal.

“Perpetrators of sectarian attacks must be held accountable for their actions in order to avoid their repetition,” the watchdog said.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi lambasted the sectarian violence, which turned into a national controversy, at the time describing it as “unacceptable”.

Coptic Christians have long complained of discrimination in public life in the Muslim-majority country, especially after sectarian incidents where the state oversees community reconciliation sessions which find mostly in favour of the culprits.

In recent years, militant group Islamic State has also targeted churches killing dozens.

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