National Redress Scheme for child sexual abuse protects institutions at the expense of justice for survivors


Kathleen Daly, Griffith University and Juliet Davis, Griffith University

Australians can be proud of what the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse accomplished, but they cannot be proud of the National Redress Scheme (NRS).

With the Joint Select Committee’s review of the NRS set to be released in the coming weeks, it’s important to look back on how the NRS emerged and the ways it strayed from the recommendations of the royal commission.

In September 2015, the royal commission released its report on redress and civil litigation. It proposed a redress scheme with three elements: a direct personal response, counselling and psychological care, and a monetary payment.




Read more:
Royal commission report makes preventing institutional sexual abuse a national responsibility


And it set forth principles to guide redress, such as being “survivor-focused” by providing justice to survivors and not protecting the interests of institutions.

On June 19 2018, the NRS bill passed with bipartisan support in both houses of parliament, but it did not adhere to these principles, nor reflect the spirit of what the royal commission had recommended.

Protecting the interests of institutions ultimately prevailed over providing justice to survivors.

So how and why did this happen?

Creating a national scheme

Creating a national scheme was a complicated exercise. To do so, Australian states had to refer their legislative power for redress to the Commonwealth. Without state referral, non-Commonwealth institutions – both government and non-government – could not participate.

The Commonwealth began negotiating with the states in January 2016. In November that year, then Attorney-General George Brandis and then Minister for Social Services Christian Porter issued a press release announcing that a Commonwealth Redress Scheme (CRS) would be established.

The release said the maximum payment would be $150,000, not the $200,000 figure the royal commission had recommended.

That day, Porter held a press conference where he was asked to explain why the maximum was reduced. He said:

we have had intensive negotiations with the states and territories, and with churches and charities. And we were trying to design a monetary redress payment that offered appropriate recognition, but maximised our opportunity to get other organisations to opt-in to the scheme.

In October 2017, the CRS bill was introduced into parliament. The government’s strategy was to move the bill along while at the same time encouraging states and non-government institutions to opt-in to the scheme. If no states did so by July 1 2018, the scheme would be for survivors of abuse in Commonwealth institutions only.

That day, Porter was asked on ABC radio why people with convictions for sexual offences or other serious crimes were not eligible for the scheme. Porter explained that the decision was made in “deep consultation” with state attorneys-general who were of the “almost unanimous” view that to “give integrity and public confidence to the scheme”, there needed to be limitations for those who “had committed serious crimes, particularly sexual offences”.

The exclusion was a condition for the states to opt-in, and a “powerful reason why [the] decision was made”, according to Porter.

In the same interview, he dropped another bombshell: counselling and psychological care would be capped at $5,000 per person. No explanation was given. The royal commission did not recommend a criminal history exclusion nor a cap on counselling.

As the CRS bill moved through parliament, media stories and submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee focused on the reduced maximum payment, criminal history exclusion, and cap on counselling. Concerns were also raised that the scheme was for sexual abuse only, and that important scheme details were to be contained in delegated legislation, or what is also termed “the rules”. This meant the minister would announce them at a future date, and they would not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

Two crucial elements in the delegated legislation were the Assessment Framework and the Direct Personal Response Framework. The Assessment Framework assesses both the monetary payment and monetary support for counselling and psychological care. The Direct Personal Response Framework outlines a limited number of ways a responsible institution may engage with a survivor, including an apology or statement of regret, and steps taken to prevent abuse in the future.

It was not until August 13 2018, two months after the passage of the NRS, that these frameworks were tabled by the minister. Both departed strongly from what the royal commission had recommended.

The shift from a Commonwealth to a national scheme occurred in May 2018, when a COAG intergovernmental agreement on the NRS was signed by New South Wales and the ACT. New South Wales introduced legislation referring the power to make laws about redress to the Commonwealth.

Later that month, the NRS bill was introduced into federal parliament. A Senate review in March had called attention to gaps between what the Royal Commission had recommended and what was in the CRS bill. The NRS bill maintained and, at times, widened these gaps.

The widening gaps between the royal commission and the NRS

We identified 17 contentious matters in the NRS bill.

Five matters that received considerable attention were the maximum monetary payment, criminal history exclusion, cap on counselling, assessment framework, and the eligibility of sexual abuse only.

But 12 others were just as consequential.

They related to government and institutional responsibilities (funder of last resort and institutional opt-in timeframe); application and payment requirements (single application, indexation of payment, acceptance period, deed of release, lack of external review); other eligibility criteria (no application from gaol, citizenship and residency, age limit); scheme reporting; and the direct personal response.

All 17 matters departed from what the royal commission recommended except three: the eligibility of sexual abuse only, indexation of payment, and no external review.

The pressure points for the departures were economic and political costs to government and non-government participants, and to a lesser degree, the convenience of the scheme operator.

As the NRS legislation moved toward passage in June 2018, many politicians said it was “imperfect”, but they would support it. Such support was often couched in pro-survivor rhetoric. For example, Senator Louise Pratt said:

Survivors have in some instances waited all their lives for justice, and they should not have to wait a minute longer.

In fact, politicians’ hands were tied: they could not change the bill because this would require renegotiating the framework of redress decided by members of the state and federal executive. Such delay would jeopardise the Commonwealth’s promised start date of July 1 2018.

We want to see a fair and effective redress scheme. To make that happen, elements in the current scheme will need to change.

But is there any hope for change? Perhaps.

A bipartisan Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the Oversight of the Implementation of Redress Related Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been receiving submissions and holding hearings over the past five months.




Read more:
Listen to abuse survivors and advocates to clear the way to a national redress scheme


The JSC has learned that survivors are having many problems applying to the scheme and understanding how best to present their case. Witnesses to the JSC and committee members themselves have expressed disbelief about the Assessment Framework: it privileges penetrative sexual abuse above all other types, and it caps the monetary support for counselling based on the type of abuse.

We provided evidence to the JSC of the many ways the NRS departs from the royal commission’s principles of redress.

We also provided evidence of how poorly the scheme compares with other world redress schemes in the ways it assesses the severity and impact of abuse, supports counselling, and excludes certain groups. Compared to numerous examples that the royal commission offered for the direct personal response, the NRS stuck to a bare minimum and severely weakened the power of this innovative redress element.

Will the JSC report, delivered in early April, produce findings that make politicians, the media, and the public take notice?

The timing is not optimal with a federal election looming and other matters taking greater precedence. Post-election, let’s hope that the failure of the NRS to provide justice to survivors receives the attention it deserves.The Conversation

Kathleen Daly, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University and Juliet Davis, Research Fellow, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How an appeal could uphold or overturn George Pell’s conviction


David Hamer, University of Sydney

A criminal trial often helps to provide finality for the accused, and closure for victims and society. But following this week’s news, George Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter QC, indicated Pell maintains his innocence and the legal team have already lodged an appeal. Richter said this would be pursued following Pell’s sentencing.

Pell’s conviction no longer appears final, but provisional. The Vatican initially said it would wait until the appeal outcome before launching its own investigation that could lead to the Cardinal being defrocked. But it has now been confirmed the investigation is starting regardless.

The Australian government, though, said it will only strip Pell of his Order of Australia honours if he loses the appeal. Meanwhile, the media and community are awash with confusion about the verdict that came in a retrial after the first trial concluded with a hung jury. It seems many people are holding their breath until the appeal is heard.

Defendants generally only get one appeal, though that one appeal may be taken further to the High Court. If Pell’s appeal is dismissed, he will require exceptional intervention from the Government, which is very rare.

So, what is an appeal, and what might it look like for someone with Pell’s profile and convictions?




Read more:
We knew George Pell was guilty of child sex abuse. Why couldn’t we say it until now?


How long would an appeal take?

The appeal process is fairly elaborate. It requires the Court of Appeal’s leave (or approval). If given, the defence and prosecution will make written submissions to the court. There is then a hearing, on the basis of which the court will make a decision, explain its reasoning, and make appropriate orders.

In this case, the court may dismiss the appeal, allow the appeal and order a retrial, or allow the appeal and order that Pell be acquitted. With a crowded list of cases, this entire procedure often takes more than a year. The Pell appeal may be relatively simple and decided more quickly.

Bail was revoked pending sentencing, anticipating a custodial sentence, and Pell will remain in custody until the appeal. If the appeal is upheld, the court may make a decision immediately following the hearing and publish its reasons subsequently.

Evidence at the trial

The trial did not involve a great deal of evidence. One of the alleged victims had made a report to police in 2015, claiming the assaults occurred after mass. The other alleged victim died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2014, apparently without reporting abuse.

Like many delayed sexual assault cases – almost 20 years in this case – there simply isn’t much evidence available. At Pell’s trial, there seemed to have been little more than the complainant’s allegations and Pell’s denials. Pell did not testify. Video of his denials to police were played to the jury.

The jury may have preferred to see how Pell coped with cross-examination. But he has the right to silence, and his failure to enter the witness box can’t be used against him.

A few other witnesses gave evidence about the masses delivered by Pell at St Patrick’s Cathedral, where the abuse allegedly took place. They supported the defence’s claims of the impossibility of the abuse taking place. Witnesses noted the then Archbishop Pell would have been accompanied at all times during the crowded events and would not have had the opportunity to commit the offences.

Other types of evidence often relied on by the prosecution in child sexual abuse trials did not feature in the Pell trial. The prosecution wasn’t able to present the complainant’s earlier reports of abuse. It seems he told no one prior to the police report.

The absence of earlier reports would not necessarily help the defence. Courts now recognise there are many reasons why victims of child sexual assault find it hard to talk. They feel confused and powerless, particularly where the offender is in a position of authority.




Read more:
Triggering past trauma: how to take care of yourself if you’re affected by the Pell news


Many child sexual assault prosecutions rely on evidence of other alleged victims to demonstrate the defendant’s propensity or tendency for child sexual abuse. Such evidence was potentially available in the Pell trial – other allegations had been made from his time in Ballarat in the 1970s.

However, this evidence was not admitted at trial. The two sets of allegations were kept entirely separate (and the trials split), perhaps to avoid the risk of jury prejudice. Pell’s Melbourne convictions (in the cathedral trial) were suppressed while the Ballarat charges (swimmers trial) were pending.

It was only when the prosecution dropped the Ballarat charges that the convictions on the Melbourne charges were made public.

What would the defence appeal?

Because only limited evidence was relied on at trial, relatively few legal issues were raised. This means the defence may find it difficult to identify any legal error as a ground for appeal. Richter has indicated the defence will claim there were errors regarding the constitution of the jury and the defence not being permitted to use a graphic.

If errors are found, the Court of Appeal would still dismiss the appeal if the errors seem too slight to have affected the outcome.

The other defence argument on appeal could be that the conviction was unreasonable. The jury simply got the facts wrong. Here the defence may face obstacles. The Court of Appeal is unlikely to entertain claims the jury was prejudiced and blamed Pell for the Church’s inadequate response to other paedophile priests.

Appeal courts generally trust a properly directed jury will comply with its duties. Appeal courts are also generally wary of overriding jury verdicts, particularly where they rest upon witness credibility, as in this case. Inconsistencies and gaps in a complainant’s account may be attributed to the delay rather than fabrication.

However, the Court of Appeal may feel well placed to assess the defence argument of impossibility. And in this case, unusually, the court may be able to assess the complainant’s demeanour, since the witness testified over video link.

This may be one of those exceptional cases where the court is prepared to say the jury got it wrong. But the court may also hesitate to override the jury – the community’s representatives – in a case that has opened such a rift in Australian society.




Read more:
After Pell, the Catholic Church must undergo genuine reform


The Conversation


David Hamer, Professor of Evidence Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For whom the Pell tolls: what did we learn from George Pell’s royal commission appearance?


Timothy W. Jones, La Trobe University

Cardinal George Pell returned this week to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in relation to the Ballarat and Melbourne case studies.

Giving evidence over the course of four days, via video link from Rome, Pell modified slightly his previous public positions. But, fundamentally, he insisted that he knew little, and fulfilled his duties in relation to what he did know.

On several occasions, counsel assisting the royal commission suggested that Pell’s claims to be ignorant of child sex offending in various contexts was implausible. If everyone around Pell knew, how could he not have known?

The forms of denial

One of the most important lessons we have learnt from Pell’s appearance is the church was – and still is – in a state of denial. It is in denial about the harms of sexual abuse, and about the adequacy of its responses to allegations of abuse.

Being in denial is a curious thing. In denying something, you implicitly admit that there is something to deny.

The late sociologist Stanley Cohen examined this phenomenon in his last book. Cohen argued that we have myriad techniques of keeping disturbing knowledge at bay: there are many ways of not knowing.

The simplest is literal denial. We saw plenty of this from Pell. He repeatedly said that he never knew of allegations of abuse; that he never heard rumours of Gerald Ridsdale’s offending when they shared a presbytery in Ballarat.

Even less plausibly, Pell claimed that advisors and colleagues deliberately kept information from him. As journalist David Marr wrote, Pell was apparently:

… hoodwinked decades ago by an archbishop, a bishop, his colleagues and even the Catholic Education Office.

A more nuanced way of avoiding knowledge is interpretive denial. This involves keeping knowledge at a distance by accepting a fact but giving it a different interpretation.

So, when questioned about his time as a consultor in Ballarat, Pell insisted that paedophilia was never mentioned in discussions of why priests were being moved unexpectedly between parishes. Many of his fellow consultors knew that child sex offences had been committed, and “homosexuality” may have been mentioned as the reason for the priest’s removal.

But Pell, incuriously, chose not to see the possibility that the homosexual conduct may have been intergenerational. He asked no questions, and admitted:

It was a sad story and of not much interest to me.

The most disturbing form of denial on display in Pell’s four days of testimony, however, is implicatory denial: a refusal to see the legal and moral implications that follow from information.

Pell went to great lengths to explain that, in almost all cases, he did everything that was appropriate to his role at the time. He was repeatedly challenged by counsel assisting and the commissioner, Peter McClellan, that a priest might have a moral responsibility that exceeds the literal duties assigned to their role. But Pell rejected this proposition:

He has a moral responsibility to do … what is appropriate to his position.

Pell claimed that in his positions as priest, consultor and auxilliary bishop, he did all that was appropriate to his position. He simply reported any allegations that he thought were plausible to his superiors. That they neglected their duties was not his responsibility.

What chance of change?

Pell may be right that that the lion’s share of blame for the gross miscarriages of justice being examined by the royal commission should be laid at the feet of his dead and dying former superiors. But what is also emerging is graphic evidence of the dysfunctionality of Catholic governance on this issue.

As my research has shown, Roman Catholic canon law – ironically – has the oldest and most clearly articulated legal provisions for the prosecution of sexual offences against children. Yet the enactment of these provisions is entirely in the diocesan bishop’s hands.

A diocesan bishop has a fundamental conflict of interest in the discipline of clergy in their diocese. He is simultaneously responsible for the pastoral care of the priest and for their punishment. This contravenes a basic principle of natural law – that no-one should be a judge in their own case.

If church authorities had believed the children’s allegations, investigated them and kept records of those investigations, it is possible that offending priests could have been removed and disciplined. Instead, allegations were regarded as implausible, offending priests’ denials were believed, and records were destroyed.

And where allegations were too stark to be denied, the gravity of the offending was denied, and priests were sent for “counselling” and relocated.

It is evident that Archbishop Frank Little and Bishop Ronald Mulkearns neglected their responsibilities and even contravened canon law in their dealings with sexually offending clergy. But Pell’s claims to have fulfilled his moral responsibility in the face of this dysfunction ring hollow.

Pell chose to keep knowledge of his fellow priests’ offending at bay and allowed his superiors’ neglect and malpractice to continue. After the exposure of this legal dysfunction and moral cowardice, we can expect the royal commission’s recommendations will include changes to Roman Catholic governance and canon law.

The Conversation

Timothy W. Jones, Senior Lecturer in History, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hillsong Sexual Abuse Investigation


The link below is to an article that reports on an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Hillsong and Assembly of God churches.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/06/hillsong-brian-houston-testify-abuse-allegations-response

Afghan Authorities Block Lawyer from Visiting Jailed Christian


Second suspect accused of ‘blasphemy’ is government informant, accused says.

ISTANBUL, December 9 (CDN) — A Christian in Afghanistan facing “apostasy” charges punishable by death is still without legal representation after authorities blocked a foreign lawyer’s attempt to visit him in prison, sources said.

A Christian lawyer from the region who requested anonymity travelled to Kabul on behalf of Christian legal rights organization Advocates International two weeks ago to represent 45-year-old Said Musa (alternatively spelled Sayed Mossa). Authorities denied him access to Musa and to his indictment file.

“If a man is not entitled to define his own beliefs, and to change those ideas, under the existing constitutional order of Afghanistan, then how is this government more moral than the Taliban’s?” the lawyer said in an e-mail to Compass.

After several court hearing postponements, Musa appeared before a judge on Nov. 27 without prior notice. Rejecting the case file as deficient, the judge sent it to the attorney general’s office for corrections, according to the lawyer. The lawyer said he has deduced that the file was missing a formal indictment and other “incriminating” evidence.

The legal expert said that according to Afghan law, Musa is entitled to see a copy of the indictment and review the evidence against him, but authorities have denied him both rights. If the prosecutor does not present the court with an indictment within 15 days of arrest, the attorney said, an accused person has the right to be released. Musa has been in jail since May 31.

 

Suspicious Second Suspect

The prosecutor in charge of western Kabul, Din Mohammad Quraishi, said two men, Musa and Ahmad Shah, were accused of conversion to another religion, according to Agence France-Presse. But Musa’s letters from prison and other sources indicate that Shah is a government informant posing as a Christian.

Musa and Shah appeared before the judge on Nov. 27 “shackled and chained” to each other, according to a source who was present. Though Shah, who was also arrested six months ago, has denied he is a Christian, the prosecutor said there was “proof” against him.  

Musa and the other sources claim that Shah is an informant posing as a Christian in order to damage him and other Afghan Christians. They claim that Shah allegedly sent images of Christians worshiping to the country’s most popular broadcaster, Noorin TV, which aired them in May.

The broadcast appeared on an Afghan TV show called “Sarzanin-e-man,” or “My Homeland,” hosted by Nasto Nadiri, 27, an outspoken opponent of the government and a parliamentary hopeful. Noorin TV station is opposed to the government and does what it can to “embarrass” it, a source said.

The broadcast put in motion the events that got Musa arrested, sources said. The hour-long TV show sparked protests throughout the country against Christians and a heated debate in parliament. In early June, the deputy secretary of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for the execution of converts from Islam.

Many converts to Christianity left the country, according to sources, and many were arrested, though the exact number is unknown.

Musa was concerned about the public outcry against Christians and went to his employer, the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC), to request personal leave the morning of May 31. Authorities arrested him after he left the building, and his family could not locate him for nearly two months.

The Christian suffered sexual abuse, beatings, mockery and sleep deprivation because of his faith in Jesus in the first months of his detention. Last month, after quiet diplomatic efforts, authorities transferred him to the Kabul Detention Center in the Governor’s Compound. There have been no reports of mistreatment since he was transferred.

The lawyer who tried to visit him said that all Afghans in the country are assumed to be Muslims, and this assumption is deeply ingrained in the culture. The result is lack of justice for the “deviants,” he said.

“It is the greatest shame on a family, clan and the nation, that someone would consider to leave Islam,” the lawyer told Compass. “I [saw] the face of the attorney general literally darken in distaste when he realized we came to assist this man who committed such a shameful offense. Therefore there are no ‘rights’ Christians can claim.”

The lawyer said that from the perspective of the court, if Musa continues to stand for his faith in Jesus, he will certainly be found guilty of “apostasy,” or leaving Islam.

Though no one knows when a court hearing will take place, monitors expect it could be any day and, as before, could come without warning. Musa is still looking for an Afghan lawyer that will agree to defend him in court.

In his latest letters from prison, Musa asked Christians to continue to pray for him and Afghanistan and “not give up.”

An amputee with a prosthetic leg, Musa worked for the ICRC for 15 years, fitting patients for prosthetic limbs. He stepped on a landmine when serving in the Afghan Army, and his injury required the amputation of his right leg below the knee, according to World Magazine.

Married and the father of six young children, Musa has been a Christian for eight years.

 

Another Christian in Prison

Another Afghan Christian is in prison for his faith, sources said. Shoib Assadullah, 25, was arrested on Oct. 21 for giving a New Testament to a man who reportedly turned him in to authorities.

Assadullah is in a holding jail in a district of Mazar-e-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan. Sources said his family has been unsuccessful at procuring his release despite paying bribes to officials. As in Musa’s case, because of the sensitivity of the charges, no lawyer has agreed to defend him. Assadullah has not reported any mistreatment while in prison.

He has stood before a judge at least once since his arrest. The judge asked him what faith he followed, and Assadullah told him he was a Christian, said a source who requested anonymity.  

Although Assadullah’s family has tolerated his new faith, they are not pleased with it, the source said, and a few days ago his father disowned him. Assadullah became a Christian about five years ago.

“He wants others to know that he is not frightened, and that his faith is strong,” the source told Compass. “He is desperately missing having a Bible.”

Assadullah asked that people pray that Afghan believers would stay strong in their faith, the source said.

Musa and Assadullah are the only known Christian converts from Islam in prison in Afghanistan, and both face probable apostasy charges punishable by death under sharia (Islamic law), which is still applied in the country.

Last month, in its 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. State Department reported that respect for religious freedom in Afghanistan diminished in the last year, “particularly for Christian groups and individuals.”

The constitution states that Islam is the “religion of the state” and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” The report stated that conversion from Islam is understood by Islamic clergy, as well as many citizens, to contravene the tenets of Islam.

Nevertheless, the country has signed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulating religious freedom, including the freedom to change one’s faith. The nation’s constitution also provides a measure of religious liberties under Article 2, but Article 3 limits the application of all laws if they are contrary to the “beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.”

Another source who requested anonymity said the proceedings against Musa and Assadullah typify the intolerance and abhorrence inherent in Islam toward open-mindedness and progress. He said that the only sentence possible would be death, and that if Musa were freed his only recourse would be to leave the country or be killed.

The source voiced exasperation toward the international community and defenders of human rights for not speaking up for the Christians in prison.

“We try as much as we can to push things in order to reveal this unfair situation, knowing that Afghanistan is a signatory of the Human Rights Convention,” he said. “But this serious failure of human rights is more or less accepted as a case ‘so sensitive’ that nobody wants to really fight against.”

According to the state department report, estimates of the size of the Christian community in Afghanistan range from 500 to 8,000.

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: JUDGE TELLS OF DESIRE TO KILL CHRISTIAN


Bail granted to convert from Islam barred from legally changing religious ID.

ISTANBUL, January 27 (Compass Direct News) – After her arrest at Cairo’s airport on Dec. 13 while attempting to flee anti-Christian hostilities in Egypt, convert Martha Samuel Makkar was granted bail on Saturday (Jan. 24), but not before a judge took her aside and said he would like to kill her, according to her lawyer.

Attorney Nadia Tawfiq said Judge Abdelaa Hashem questioned Makkar extensively about her Christian faith during the hearing. Makkar, charged with forging identification documents, explained her reasons for her conversion, avowing her Christian faith and repudiating the judge’s claims that converting from Islam to Christianity was impossible.

“Then he said, ‘I want to talk with Martha alone,’ so we all left the room, and he said to her, ‘Nobody changes from Muslim to Christian – you are a Muslim,’” Tawfiq said. “And she said, ‘No, I am a Christian.’ He told her, ‘If I had a knife now, I would kill you.’ [Makkar] came out crying and depressed, but at least he gave the decision to let her go free.”

Makkar, 24, had planned to escape the dangers she has faced in Egypt by travelling to Russia with her family. She says that since converting to Christianity five years ago, police and members of her extended family have threatened her incessantly, the relatives vowing to kill her.

Airport security personnel had been notified of Makkar’s plans, according to a Coptic rights group.

“They had both [her original and Christian] names and maybe a picture before she reached the airport,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the UK Coptic Association. “They did not [arrest her] to apply the law, they did it because of hate for Muslims converting to Christianity. It is like a great occasion to go and arrest some poor lady like her in the airport.”

After her arrest, Makkar was charged with carrying forged documents and taken to El-Nozha police station. Authorities also took her husband and two children into custody. The identification that Makkar carried listed her religion as Christian and bore the name she had chosen for herself rather than her given name, Zainab Said Abdel-Aziz.

Legal conversion from Islam to Christianity by Muslim-born Egyptians, and gaining corresponding legitimate documents, is unprecedented in Egypt. Egyptian law does not provide for a means to legally change one’s religion on identification papers.

According to Tawfiq, Makkar said authorities held her in a room at the airport, hit her and denied food to her children.

“People who convert to Christianity are treated exactly like terrorists,” said Guirguis of the UK Coptic Association. “This is not official policy, it’s not on paper, it’s not the law, but it’s what happens.”

 

Abuse from Police, Prisoners

Before authorities took Makkar to prison, her two children, Morkes, 2, and Amanwael, 4, were handed into the care of family friends. Authorities took Makkar’s Christian husband, 32-year-old Fadl Thabet, to the national security office in Alexandria for questioning.

The prosecution office later ordered his release after testimony from Makkar, who claimed that Thabet did not know she was a convert. Despite this order, authorities did not release Thabet but instead placed him under “emergency arrest.” This form of incarceration requires no charges and provides no recourse to legal counsel. He remained in prison until Jan. 19.

Authorities had also arrested George Abyad, 67, and Masood Guirges, 55, employees of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria, on suspicion of helping Makkar obtain false papers. The prosecution office ordered their release along with that of Thabet based on Makkar’s testimony.

Since Makkar’s arrest, she has leveled allegations of sexual abuse and demeaning behavior at police in the El-Nozha station and at personnel of the national security office in Heliopolis. Makkar said she has also suffered at the hands of fellow inmates at Al-Qanata prison, where authorities later took her.

“She has some difficulty with the other prisoners in prison,” said Tawfiq. “One of them kicked her and tried to kill her; one took the Bible and threw it on the floor, pushed her and tried to make her go back to Islam. But she is strong, she is strong.”

Makkar remained in pre-trial detention until Thursday (Jan. 22), when she was briefly released on a bail of 3,000 Egyptian pounds (US$540). She was then rearrested after prosecutors filed an appeal. The appeal failed, and on Saturday (Jan. 24) Makkar was allowed to return home to her husband and children pending trial.

Tawfiq and two other lawyers, Nabil Azmi and Magdy Shounda, will represent Makkar when her trial resumes before a different judge. Tawfiq, however, is not hopeful that they will face any less of a bias.

“I think it will be the same, because all the judges are Muslim and are naturally upset about that [conversion],” she said.  

Report from Compass Direct News