The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Egypt.
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The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Egypt.
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The link below is to an article reporting on the persecution of a Christian convert from Islam in Egypt. We have previously reported on the persecution of this man who had sought recognition of his Christian status.
Court suspends Mohammed Hegazy’s lawsuit pending outcome of separate case.
CAIRO, Egypt, May 17 (CDN) — An Egyptian convert to Christianity said he is devastated by a recent court decision to suspend a lawsuit he filed to change the religion on his identification card from Muslim to Christian.
The First District of the Court of the State Council on April 27 suspended Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy’s case until the Constitutional Court rules on a challenge to Article 47, a section of the civil code that in theory allows Egyptians to change the religion listed on their ID card.
Hegazy, 27, said the suspension endangers his children’s welfare and will force them to lead a double life indefinitely – at home they will be taught to live in accordance with the Bible, and outside it they will be taught to live according to the Quran.
If they ultimately decide to follow Jesus, Hegazy said, his children will be declared “apostates” and be persecuted the rest of their lives for “leaving Islam.” Hegazy, who has suffered severely after Egypt’s religious authorities declared him an apostate, including being imprisoned by State Security Investigations (SSI) several times, said he filed the case so his children would avoid the same fate.
“I didn’t want them to have to go through the same harassment and persecution that I went through,” he said. “My daughter won’t be able to go to school without constantly fearing for her safety. She might even be killed simply because she is my daughter.”
Hegazy is arguably the most well-known Muslim convert to Christianity in Egypt. He rose to national prominence in August 2007 when he became the first Muslim convert in Egypt to sue for the right to change the religious status on his identification card to “Christian.”
Hegazy said he became a Christian in 1998 after seeking God during a period of intense study of religion. In his final assessment, he said, he found that Islam was void of the love and forgiveness found in Christianity.
Not long after his conversion, Hegazy said, he was arrested by SSI agents who tortured him for three days. In 2001, the SSI arrested Hegazy for writing a book of poems critical of the agency, which has been accused of abusive practices to preserve the regime. In 2002, the SSI arrested Hegazy and held him for more than two months in a prison he compared to a “concentration camp.”
In addition to the government response to his conversion, Hegazy said his mother and father have attacked him repeatedly for becoming a Christian.
“In the culture in Egypt, for a person to change his religion, it’s a big deal because it’s a question of honor and tradition,” Hegazy said. “My dad and my mom took it in a really bad way and would beat me.”
Hegazy married another convert from Islam, Katarina, in 2005. Katarina also wants her ID changed but fears government reaction; there are numerous reports circulating among Egyptian Christians about female converts being arrested and tortured by the SSI or simply disappearing in Egypt’s prison system under Egypt’s Emergency Law. Renewed last week for another two years, the law grants the government broad powers of arbitrary incarceration that human rights groups have roundly criticized.
When Hegazy filed his suit in 2007, he and his wife were expecting their first child. Overnight, Egyptian media propelled him into the national limelight. And the persecution got much worse.
Two religious scholars from Al-Azhar University, one of the leading voices of Islamic thought in the Middle East, publicly declared it was legal to kill Muslims that convert to Christianity. In one incident, extremists surrounded a home where Hegazy had once lived and stayed there for several days. In another incident, a group of men ransacked and set fire to Hegazy’s apartment while he was away.
Throughout his legal proceedings, several of Hegazy’s attorney’s have dropped out of the case after receiving death threats, being sued or being arrested. On Jan. 28, 2009, a court ruled that Muslims were forbidden to convert to another religion and ordered Hegazy to pay the costs of hearing his case. He appealed.
Hegazy lives in hiding. Unable to work, the former journalist is supported by friends and other Christians. Last month’s ruling will likely delay a decision in Hegazy’s case for several years and keep him and his family in limbo.
“The court is using this decision as a way of delaying having to make an ultimate decision,” Hegazy said.
The couple’s first child, Mariam, is now 2 years old, and their second child, Yousef, is 3 months old. Because Hegazy and his wife are unable to change their ID to reflect their true faith, the government lists both of their children as Muslims. If they choose to become Christians, they will be considered apostates who, in accordance with longstanding interpretation of the guiding scriptures of Islam, must be killed by faithful Muslims.
“It makes me feel like religion in Egypt isn’t something you can choose by your own free will; it’s something that you are forced to be, and nobody has a choice to choose what their religion is,” Hegazy said. “It bothers me a lot because my kids know they are being brought up as Christians in their home and their parents are Christians, but they can’t practice their religion outside the house.”
Every Egyptian citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card that is required for opening a bank account, enrolling children in school and for starting a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines to which civil or family court one is subject.
Of primary importance to Hegazy is that the religion indicated on the ID card determines what religious education classes a child is required to take in school.
There is a stark contrast in Egypt between the treatment of Christians who want to change the religious affiliation on their ID card to Islam and Muslims who want to change their affiliation to Christianity. Generally speaking, because Muslims consider the preaching of Muhammad to be the last of three revelations from God to man, in practice “freedom of religion” in Egypt means only the freedom to convert to Islam.
Article 47 of Egypt’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the constitution also states that Islam is the official religion of Egypt. Article 2 of the constitution states that Islamic law, or sharia, is “the principle source of legislation” in Egypt.
The difference between the treatment of converts to Christianity and converts to Islam is illustrated in the case of Samy Aziz Fahmy. The week before the court postponed Hegazy’s case, Fahmy, a Coptic Christian from Saayda village, changed his legal status to Islam. He received his ID card reflecting his new religion on the same day he applied for it – on the day he turned 18, the legal age for conversion.
“I think it’s very weird and not fair that when Christians want to convert to Islam there’s no problem, their papers go through and there’s no discrimination against them,” Hegazy said. “But when Muslims want to convert to Christianity, all of the sudden it’s a big deal.”
Hegazy is not alone in his legal battles. After he filed his case, other Muslim converts sought court action to change their IDs. Like Hegazy, most are in hiding of some sort. Hegazy’s lead attorney, Ashraf Edward, said he is working on several ID cases. He estimates there are more than 4 million converts to Christianity who want to change the religion listed on their ID, though the basis for that figure is unclear.
“There are a lot of people who want to change their ID, but they’re afraid of turning it into a court case because they don’t want to be persecuted,” Edward said.
Human rights groups and government agencies around the world have condemned Egypt for its record on religious freedom. In a report issued earlier this month, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom outlined Egypt’s problems with identification cards and the treatment of converts from Islam, taking note of Hegazy’s case.
“The Egyptian government generally does not recognize conversions of Muslims to other religions,” the report states. “Egyptian courts also have refused to allow Muslims who convert to Christianity to change their identity cards to reflect their conversions. In the first such case, brought by Muhammad Hegazy, a lower court ruled in January 2008 that Muslims are forbidden from converting away from Islam based on principles of Islamic law. The court also stated that such conversion would constitute a disparagement of the official state religion and an enticement for other Muslims to convert. Hegazy, who has been subjected to death threats and is currently in hiding, has appealed the ruling.”
The report cited numerous other problem areas in regard to freedom of worship in Egypt, and the country remained on USCIRF’s Watch List for 2010. Egypt has been on the list since 2002. Among the changes USCIRF said are necessary in Egypt is how religion is reported on Egypt’s national ID card.
The commission said Egypt must “ensure that every Egyptian is protected against discrimination in social, labor, and other rights by modifying the national identity card, either to omit mention of religious affiliation or make optional any mention of religious affiliation.”
Report from Compass Direct News
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