Pressured to convert to Islam, falsely accused Christian freed under reformed Emergency Law.
ISTANBUL, August 17 (CDN) — A Coptic Christian blogger arrested in Egypt on false charges of insulting Islam, then held for almost two years without charge under the country’s Emergency Law, has been released from prison.
Hani Nazeer, 31, a high school social worker and blogger was arrested Oct. 3, 2008 in response to a link to a Coptic Web site he placed on his Web log, “The Preacher of Love.” The Coptic Web site had a link to an online copy of “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” a controversial book written in response to “Azazil,” a novel critical of Christianity.
While the Egyptian author of “Azazil,” Youssef Zeidan, won awards internationally and across the Arab-speaking world for his book, the link to “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca” earned Nazeer one year and nine months in prison. Nazeer said that when he posted the link, he did not know the Coptic Web site had a link to “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” and that he has never read the book. Nazeer said there is a double standard in Egypt when it comes to any critique of Islam.
During his imprisonment, Nazeer said he was beaten, exposed to constant deprivation and was pressured to convert to Islam by violent criminals.
“One prisoner told me, ‘If you convert, you will be out in two days,’” Nazeer said.
He was released on July 22 because of recent reforms to the Emergency Law.
Riots and Arrest
Nazeer’s Web log was exclusively dedicated to human rights issues and concerns facing Egypt’s ethnic Coptic community. He had previously brought attention to himself by criticizing the ever-increasing Islamization of Egyptian civil society.
Nazeer also singled out leaders in the Coptic Orthodox Church and lamented their involvement in politics. In one post, Nazeer wrote that a gathering of activists at a Coptic church building was inappropriate because church buildings were meant to be venues for prayer, not for politics.
He said that despite the controversy, his real problems started the last week of August 2008 when someone in his village discovered the Web site link, and groups of angry young Muslim men began to riot. A local priest brought some of the rioters to meet with Nazeer in an attempt at reconciliation, to no avail.
“He tried to explain to them that the situation was not as they saw it, and that I was not the one who wrote it, and that my link wasn’t to the story – it was to another site,” Nazeer said. “They were so angry, but some of them understood, and some of them did not understand.”
For the next three days, the youths ripped through Qena, a village in Upper Egypt, protesting in the streets, throwing stones at houses and verbally assaulting Copts. The demonstrations happened during Ramadan, Islam’s most sacred month. It is unclear if any of the teenagers or men were arrested on any charges.
Nazeer went into hiding during the riots, seeking sanctuary in a monastery near Qena. The State Security Investigations unit (SSI), Egypt’s secret police agency, took two of Nazeer’s relatives into custody and aggressively interrogated them to obtain his location. Eventually Nazeer turned himself in so the SSI would release the two men.
For most of Nazeer’s imprisonment, he was housed in a single cell with at least 30 convicted felons. He said prison conditions were much worse there with the violent felons than in other parts of the prison, and he speculated that authorities placed him there to put pressure on him.
Nazeer previously stated through his attorneys that he felt prison guards had organized attempts through prisoners to force him to convert to Islam. He now says he is unsure if attempts at coercion were directed by anyone.
Nazeer said he wasn’t tortured individually, but that on one occasion guards beat him and other prisoners with sticks during a visit by a police major.
The most difficult time of his imprisonment, he said, was the first two weeks. During this time, authorities isolated him and moved him across Egypt from prison to prison. He was also repeatedly interrogated by SSI agents who tried to make him confess to being “Father Utah,” the as yet unidentified author of “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca.” They told him if he didn’t confess, he would never “see the street again.”
“I had no news about my family – I was cut off from everything,” Nazeer said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
An active member of his church for 10 years, Nazir said that before he was arrested his faith was strong, but that being in prison served only to make it stronger. He was able to get a Bible in prison and was even able to discuss Christ with two ethnic Copts who were incarcerated on felony charges.
“I spoke to them about the Christian faith when we were together alone,” Nazeer said.
He credited God for carrying him and his family through his imprisonment.
“There were times in prison that I was happy, and I know that is because God was with me,” he said.
Reform and Release
Nazeer was imprisoned under Egypt’s Emergency Law, passed in 1981 in the wake of the assassination of then-President Anwar Sadat; it allows the SSI to arrest and hold people indefinitely without charge.
In theory, the law was designed to be used to detain terrorists and others who violently opposed the state. In practice, however, it also has been used to silence opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and to persecute those outside of the religious mainstream – such as Muslims who have converted to Christianity, or members of Islamic groups considered to be heretical.
In 2005, Mubarak promised to let the law expire if re-elected, but in 2008 his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) extended the law for two more years.
Nazeer’s attorney filed motions numerous times to have him released, and 10 times judges ruled in his favor – but each time he was released from Borg El-Arab prison just outside of Alexandria, agents from the SSI, whose legal authority supersedes that of the Egyptian Courts, would take him to a different prison, he said.
“Every time the court would order my release, they would take me either to Alexandria or to Qena prison, and then later on, within a week, they would return me back to Borg El-Arab,” Nazeer said.
In May the NDP extended the law again but amended it to say that only people suspected of committing terrorist acts or of selling illegal narcotics could be arrested. In July, the Interior Ministry ordered that Nazeer be released in accordance with the revised statute.
Azza Taher Matar, a member of the International Relations Unit at the Arabic Center for Human Rights Information, an organization that defended Nazeer, said it is likely that the reforms to the Emergency Law will lead to authorities filing more charges of religious defamation against people in an effort to work around changes to the law.
Ever since his release, Nazeer, who said he was concerned for his safety, has been living in a residence provided by Bishop Kirollos of Nag Hammadi. He said he sees his family daily, and that Kirollos has said he will let him stay with him until he is “sorted out.”
Last October, Nazeer told his attorneys from prison that Kirollos was the priest that urged him to turn himself in to the SSI, promising that he would only be held four days and then released. Instead, Nazeer was prosecuted and sent to Borg El-Arab prison.
Nazeer now says he is unsure what role, if any, Kirollos played regarding his arrest. According to Nazeer, when he turned himself in to police, Kirollos said he would return in one hour, but the SSI took him away from the station.
Nazeer said he doesn’t know exactly what happened, but he added, “A priest should not sacrifice any of his people for any reason.”
He has applied for reappointment to his position as a high school social worker. He also said that despite his imprisonment, he will continue blogging.
Nazeer admits he is concerned about his safety, but that he “feels safe in God’s hands.”
Report from Compass Direct News
By Piero A. Tozzi
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 12, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Activist organization Amnesty International is putting its weight behind an Australian bill seeking to legalize "same-sex marriage" in that country, claiming that "internationally recognized" non-discrimination norms dictate such a result.
In a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Australia’s Senate, Amnesty’s Australian affiliate contends that laws limiting the right to marry to opposite-sex couples amounts to "arbitrary discrimination" in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The group further interprets a provision of the ICCPR guaranteeing adults the right to enter into "consensual marriage" as applying to same-sex couplings. Critics contend this distorts the meaning of the word "marriage" without regard to context and the apparent intent of the drafters. The ICCPR provision cited, Article 23, states that "The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized," and that "No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses."
Underscoring what critics say is the problem of United Nations (UN) treaty monitoring bodies exceeding their mandates and seeking to reinterpret treaties to include novel concepts not agreed upon by those who negotiated or ratified the treaties, Amnesty asserts that "For more than a decade, non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation has been an internationally recognized principle which has been endorsed by UN treaty bodies and numerous inter-governmental human rights bodies." Specifically, Amnesty cites interpretations of the ICCPR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by their respective treaty monitoring bodies as forming a soft-law jurisprudence in favor of a new non-discrimination category.
The creation of such a non-discrimination category is hotly-contested among UN member states, however. To date, efforts to enshrine "sexual-orientation and gender identity" as a category on par with ones such as race and religion in a legally binding document have been repeatedly rejected.
Amnesty points to a French-initiated statement signed by roughly 65 member states, including Australia, last December asserting the existence of a non-discrimination category based on sexual orientation and gender identity in support of Amnesty’s call to allow same-sex couples to enter into "a legally binding union of couples, otherwise known as marriage." The Amnesty submission contends that preventing "same-sex couples from entering into a legally binding union on the basis of sexual orientation" contravenes "the statement Australia supported in the UN General Assembly last year."
A contemporaneous counterstatement, however, signed by nearly 60 nations, principally from the Islamic world, Africa and Oceania, along with independent statements made by Russia, Belarus and the Holy See, pointed out that no non-discrimination category based on sexual orientation and gender identity exists in international law. Amnesty’s submission makes no reference to the counterstatement.
Critics of the French-led statement pointed out at the time that, though non-binding and supported by only a minority of member states, advocates would hail it as a soft-law norm signaling of a movement by states toward a rights-based acceptance of homosexual conduct – in this particular case, using it to place same-sex unions on par with marriage.
This Report from LifeSiteNews.com
Authorities deny Christian’s application for release.
ISTANBUL, November 9 (CDN) — A Coptic Christian blogger in Egypt held in prison for more than a year without charge said today he will go on a hunger strike unless authorities grant his next application for release.
Hani Nazeer, a 28-year-old high school social worker from Qena, Egypt and author of the blog “Karz El Hob,” received word today that his latest application for release, sent to the Ministry of the Interior a week ago, was denied. His attorneys said they would re-apply for his release tomorrow.
The interior ministry did not “supply the grounds for refusal” according to Rawda Ahamad, Nazeer’s lead defense attorney.
“He has no charges against him,” Ahamad said. “He is not a criminal. He must be released immediately. He’s an innocent man – anyone exposed to this severe injustice would do the same.”
On Oct. 3, 2008, Nazeer was arrested by Egypt’s State Security Investigations (SSI) and sent to Burj Al-Arab prison. Although police never charged him with any crime, Nazeer has been detained for more than a year under Egypt’s administrative imprisonment law.
Nazeer ran afoul of SSI officers a few days before his arrest when a group of local teenagers visited his website and clicked on a link to an online copy of “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” a novel written under the pseudonym “Father Utah.” The book is a response to “Azazil,” a novel by Yusuf Zidane, critical of Christianity.
Insulting religion is illegal in Egypt, but the law is enforced unequally. Zidane’s critique of Christianity garnered him fame and awards throughout the Arab world. Nazeer’s website link cost him his freedom, despite the fact that police have never publicly produced any evidence linking Nazeer to Utah’s work. After Nazeer was arrested, posts continued on Utah’s website.
Nazeer has reported to his attorneys that he has been placed in prison with felons, some of them violent. He also claims that prison authorities have pressured him to convert to Islam.
Gamel Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the group representing Nazeer, stood by his client’s accusations, saying police have urged inmates to suggest to Nazeer that officers would work to free him if he were to convert to Islam.
Nazeer’s situation is complicated by the fact that his writings upset both Islamic authorities and the hierarchy of the Coptic Orthodox Church. On one hand, he criticized the increasing Islamization of Egyptian civil society. On the other, he lamented the political involvement of the Coptic Orthodox Church. In one post, Nazeer wrote that a gathering of activists at a Coptic church was inappropriate because churches were meant to be venues for prayer, not for politics.
According to Eid, Nazeer was arrested with the complicity of leaders in the Coptic Orthodox Church. In October of 2008, police detained Nazeer’s relatives at a police station and threatened to hold them until he came out of hiding. Nazeer turned himself into the police station on the advice of Bishop Kirollos of Nag Hammadi, Nazeer reported to his attorneys. Kirollos assured Nazeer he would be detained no more than four days and then be released.
Kirollos had denounced Nazeer to security, Nazeer told his attorneys.
All attempts to reach Kirollos about his alleged involvement in Nazeer’s arrest were unsuccessful. Several attempts to reach Bishop Anba Yoannes, authorized to speak about the case on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Pope Shenouda III, were also unsuccessful. Egypt’s SSI, a political police force run by the Interior minister, routinely declines to comment on cases.
This week’s application will be sent to a court within the Ministry of the Interior. But under the emergency law, police officials have the power to ignore court orders. When local police execute a court order to release prisoners held under Egypt’s emergency law, security police commonly re-arrest them minutes later.
The law, enacted after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, allows authorities to hold people without charge. Eid estimated that there are approximately 14,000 people imprisoned under this law. In 2005, while running for re-election, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak promised to replace the contested law. But in May of 2008, the Egyptian government extended the law for two more years.
Mamdouh Nakhla, an attorney and civil rights activist in Egypt, said oppression of Coptic Christians is common and that many police officers in Egypt are the “agents of persecution.” At best, he said, they are complicit in acts of persecution. At worst, he added, police collude with others hostile to Christianity.
“They give green lights to Islamists, and protect them, and give them the feeling that they are immune from prosecution,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian critical of Islamization of society, Orthodox church jailed without charges.
ISTANBUL, October 31 (CDN) — A Coptic Christian blogger in Egypt entering his second year of prison without charge is being pressured to convert to Islam in exchange for his freedom, his attorneys said.
On Oct. 3, 2008, Hani Nazeer, a 28-year-old high school social worker from Qena, Egypt and author of the blog “Karz El Hob” (“Love Cherries”), was arrested by Egypt’s State Security Investigations (SSI) and sent to Burj Al-Arab prison. Although police never charged him with any crime, Nazeer has been detained for more than a year under Egypt’s administrative imprisonment law.
Gamel Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the group representing Nazeer, said Nazeer was arrested unfairly and now is being coerced to abandon his faith.
“Hani complains about that, it happened, and it’s true,” said Eid. “But the police do it in a subtle way. They do it by inspiring the inmates to suggest to Nazeer that if he converts to Islam, police will work to get him out of prison.”
Nazeer is confined in what is commonly known as the “general population” area of the prison, meaning he is housed with both violent and non-violent felons. Nazeer told his attorneys he is often treated harshly. Despite this, Eid said Nazeer is constant in his faith.
A few days before his arrest, on Oct. 1, 2008, a group of young Muslims in Nag Hammadi saw his website and clicked on a link to an online copy of “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” a novel written under the pseudonym “Father Utah.” The book is a response to “Azazil,” a novel critical of Christianity by Yusuf Zidane that is famous in Egypt.
While Zidane’s critique of Christianity garnered him awards throughout the Arab world, locals protested the link to Utah’s site.
Insulting religion is considered a crime in Egypt, although typically the law is only enforced when Islam is criticized. Police have not publicly produced any evidence linking Nazeer to Utah’s work. After Nazeer was arrested, posts continued on Utah’s website. It is unclear if the teenagers who saw Nazeer’s website and were offended were students at his school.
Eid said the deeper issue was that Nazeer upset Islamic authorities by criticizing the increasing Islamization of Egyptian civil society and irked church leaders by lamenting political involvement of the Coptic Orthodox Church. In one post, Nazeer wrote said that a gathering of activists at a Coptic church was inappropriate because churches were meant to be venues for prayer, not for politics.
Police had detained Nazeer’s relatives at a police station and threatened to hold them until he came out of hiding, Eid said, and Nazeer turned himself into a police station in October 2008 – on the advice of Bishop Kirollos of Nag Hammadi, Nazeer reported to his attorneys.
Kirollos assured Nazeer he would be detained no more than four days and then be released. According to Nazeer and the ANHRI, the bishop colluded with authorities to get rid of Nazeer, whose online criticism had become bothersome.
“[Kirollos] is the one who turned me in after he denounced me to security,” Nazeer told his attorneys. “He bluffed [that] we were going for a short investigation and it will be all over. Then I found out it was a charade to turn me in to state security.”
Eid claimed the arrest achieved two complementary goals for police and Kirollos – calming those protesting “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” and silencing a blogger who had been critical of Islamic hardliners and the Coptic Orthodox Church.
All attempts to reach Kirollos were unsuccessful. Several attempts to reach Bishop Anba Yoannes, authorized to speak about the case on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Pope Shenouda III, were also unsuccessful. Egypt’s SSI, a political police force run by the Interior minister, routinely declines to comment on cases.
Release Orders Invalidated
Nazeer’s attorneys are set to appeal his imprisonment on Sunday (Nov. 1), but it is unclear how or even if the appeal will affect his case. Courts have ordered Nazeer’s release several times before. The SSI has rendered the orders for release invalid by invoking the country’s longstanding emergency law, which supersedes court authority.
When local police execute a court order to release prisoners held under the emergency law, security police commonly re-arrest them minutes later. The law, enacted after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, allows authorities to hold people without charge. Eid estimated that there are approximately 14,000 people imprisoned under this law.
Eid said Nazeer’s case is extremely difficult.
“Hani is in between the hate of the Islamists and the hate of the Christians,” he said. “The Islamists of course are against him, and the church [leadership] is against him, so he’s being badly squeezed between the two.”
Kalldas Fakhry Girgis, Nazeer’s cousin, saw him 15 days ago. Girgis said that despite Nazeer’s confinement, he is in good spirits. He remains strong in his faith and his convictions.
“He wants to know why he’s been arrested,” Girgis said about his cousin. “He’s hopeful. His morale is high. But he is feeling stressed.”
Report from Compass Direct News
An ‘Easter find’ regarding Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust is causing excitement among library workers in Sydney, Australia, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.
A list of 801 Jews saved during the Holocaust by German businessman Oskar Schindler, later depicted in a famous Oscar-winning movie, has been discovered by a researcher at a Sydney library, according to the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ).
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) reports the library’s co-curator, Olwen Pryk, said Monday that employees at the New South Wales State Library found the 13-page yellowing document while sifting through boxes belonging to the Australian author Thomas Keneally, who in 1982 published the novel “Schindler’s Ark,” recounting how Schindler risked his life to save more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazis.
The story was later adapted for Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film, “Schindler’s List.”
ICEJ says that according to Pryk, the list was hurriedly typed on April 18, 1945, in the closing days of World War II.
Pryk added that the list was “one of the most powerful documents of the 20th Century.”
According to Pryk, the document was given to Keneally in 1980 by Leopold Pfefferberg — named on the list as Jewish worker number 173 — when he was persuading the novelist to write the gripping story.
Report from the Christian Telegraph