Christian woman tells TV audience imprisoned clergyman did not know of false ID.
ISTANBUL, May 22 (Compass Direct News) – An Egyptian convert from Islam who forged Christian identification papers and later used them to marry a Coptic man has appeared on a television show declaring the innocence of a priest serving a five-year sentence for marrying the couple.
The priest’s lawyers, Ramses El-Naggar and Peter Ramses, submitted a recording of convert Mariam Nabil’s TV interview to Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud in support of their appeal of the Rev. Mattaos Wahba’s conviction for conducting a marriage ceremony with false documents.
“We are sure that if we can review that case in front of the high court, Father Mattaos will be free, because the decision from the court is the wrong decision,” said Ramses. “But until now we didn’t present the case.”
The priest of Archangel Michael Church at Kerdasa, in Geza, and two other men were charged with converting Nabil and aiding her in forging a Christian ID card. The other two men are in hiding.
Wahba was arrested last October, with the added charge of knowingly conducting a marriage ceremony with false documents. He was convicted of this charge and sentenced to five years in Cairo’s Tora prison.
Nabil maintains that Wahba had no involvement in obtaining the false documents and was not aware that they were forged when he married the couple.
Safwat El-Baiday, spokesman for the Evangelical Church in Egypt, said priests should not be made responsible for verifying documents.
“We as a church do not believe that a priest who sees the documents and the witnesses can be put in jail,” El-Baiday said. “If there are witnesses and a bride and a groom, it is not our job to investigate if their documents are right or wrong.”
The conviction met with a public outcry, and international Coptic rights groups have petitioned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to release Wahba.
Consequences of Conversion
Despite the risk to herself, her husband and his family, Nabil went public with her story on April 24, appearing on the TV show “Daring Questions,” which is produced outside of Egypt and airs weekly on the Christian Al-Hayat station.
Nabil, born Reham Abdel Aziz, originally converted from Islam to Christianity in 2004. After suffering harsh treatment from her family due to her conversion, she sought to leave them and live freely as a Christian, leading to her need for new identification documents. Using the birth certificate of a deceased woman, she managed to obtain a government identification card stating her religion as Christian in 2004.
Later she fell in love and married. Shortly after their marriage in 2006, Nabil and her husband fled Egypt to escape her family members, who had threatened to kill her. When Nabil’s relatives learned of her marriage, they informed police, who discovered the forgery. She left Egypt before the falsified ID was discovered, and authorities still seek to arrest her and her husband for forged documents.
The host of “Daring Questions” told Compass via telephone that because there is no legal means for converts from Islam to designate it on identification papers, they are often left with no option but to break the law. In Egypt, a Christian man is not allowed to marry a Muslim woman.
“From one side I am against forging documents, but from the other side I think that the government is pushing Christians from a Muslim background to forge documents,” he said. “They give them no choice.”
Officially changing one’s religious status away from Islam is not legally possible in Egypt. Two Christian converts involved in a legal battle for this right, Maher El-Gohary and Mohammed Hegazy, are in hiding under threat of death.
Report from Compass Direct News