INDONESIA: SHARIA-BASED LAWS CREEP INTO HALF OF PROVINCES


Islamic-based legislation may be a key issue in this year’s elections.

DUBLIN, February 2 (Compass Direct News) – As candidates hit the campaign trail in preparation for Indonesia’s presidential election in July, rights groups have voiced strong opposition to an increasing number of sharia-inspired laws introduced by local governments. They say the laws discriminate against religious minorities and violate Indonesia’s policy of Pancasila, or “unity in diversity.”

With legislative elections coming in April and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono likely to form a coalition with several Islamic parties for the July presidential election, such laws could become a key campaign issue.

Although Aceh is the only province completely governed by sharia (Islamic law), more than 50 regencies in 16 of 32 provinces throughout Indonesia have passed laws influenced by sharia. These laws became possible following the enactment of the Regional Autonomy Law in 2000.

The form of these laws varies widely. Legislation in Padang, West Sumatra, requires both Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear headscarves, while a law in Tangerang allows women found “loitering” alone on the street after 10 p.m. to be arrested and charged with prostitution. Other laws include stipulations for Quran literacy among schoolchildren and severe punishment for adultery, alcoholism and gambling.

“Generally the legal system regulates and guarantees religious freedom of Indonesian citizens … but in reality, discrimination prevails,” a lawyer from the legal firm Eleonora and Partners told Compass.

Some regencies have adopted sharia in a way that further marginalizes minority groups, according to Syafi’I Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism.

“For instance, the Padang administration issued a law requiring all schoolgirls, regardless of their religion, to wear the headscarf,” he told the International Herald Tribune. This is unacceptable because it is not in line with the pluralism that the constitution recognizes.”

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 29 of the country’s constitution, he added. “Therefore the government must assist all religious communities to practice their beliefs as freely as possible and take actions against those who violate that right.”

While Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has publicly denounced the implementation of such laws, other groups actively support them. The Committee for the Implementation and Maintenance of Islamic Law (KPPSI) has held several congresses in Makassar, South Sulawesi with the goal of passing sharia-inspired legislation and obtaining special autonomy for the province, similar to that in Aceh.

KPPSI has also encouraged members to vote for politicians who share their goals, according to local news agency Komintra.

 

‘Threatening’ Decision

In February of last year, Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto declared that the government saw no need to nullify some 600 sharia-inspired laws passed by local governments. His announcement came after a group of lawyers in June 2007 urged the government to address laws that discriminated against non-Muslims.

Moderates were alarmed at Mardiyanto’s decision, fearing it would encourage other jurisdictions to pass similar laws. Last August, Dr. Mohammad Mahfud, newly re-elected as head of the Constitutional Court, slammed regional administrations for enacting sharia-inspired laws.

“[These] laws are not constitutionally or legally correct because, territorially and ideologically, they threaten our national integrity,” he told top military officers attending a training program on human rights, according to The Jakarta Post.

Mahfud contended that if Indonesia allowed sharia-based laws, “then Bali can pass a Hindu bylaw, or North Sulawesi can have a Christian ordinance. If each area fights for a religious-based ordinance, then we face a national integration problem.” According to Mahfud, sharia-based laws would promote religious intolerance and leave minority religious groups without adequate legal protection.

Under the 2000 Regional Autonomy Law, the central government has the power to block provincial laws but showed little willingness to do so until recently when, bowing to pressure from advocacy groups, it pledged to review 37 sharia-based ordinances deemed discriminatory and at odds with the constitution.

Such reviews are politically sensitive and must be done on sound legal grounds, according to Ridarson Galingging, a law lecturer in Jakarta.

“Advocates of sharia-based laws will stress the divine origin of sharia and resist challenges [that are] based on constitutional or human rights limits,” he told The Jakarta Post. “They maintain that sharia is authorized directly by God, and political opposition is viewed as apostasy or blasphemy.”

 

Empowering Vigilantes

A national, sharia-inspired bill regulating images or actions deemed pornographic sparked outrage when presented for a final vote in October last year. One fifth of the parliamentarians present walked out in protest, leaving the remainder to vote in favor of the legislation.

The bill provided for up to 15 years of prison and a maximum fine of US$1.5 million for offenders.

“This law will only empower vigilante groups like the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI),” Eva Sundari, a member of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) told reporters. FPI is widely-regarded as a self-appointed moral vigilante group, often raiding bars and nightclubs, but also responsible for multiple attacks on churches.

“Many of the members are preparing for elections and looking for support among the Islamic community,” she added. “Now they can point to this law as evidence that they support Islamic values.”

Although several Golkar Party politicians support sharia-based laws, senior Golkar Party member Theo Sambuaga has criticized politicians for endorsing such legislation to win support from Muslim voters. Several major parties openly back sharia laws, including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party, and the Crescent Star party.

 

Key Election Issue

Sharia-based laws may become an even hotter election issue this year as a change to the voting system means more weight will be given to provincial candidates.

Political analysts believe Yudhoyono must form a coalition with most if not all of the country’s Islamic parties in order to win a majority vote against the Golkar party, allied for this election with former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDIP.

The coalition Yudhoyono could form, however, likely would come with strings attached. As Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance wrote in September 2008, “The more the president needs the Islamists, the more they can demand of him.”

In 2004, Yudhoyono partnered with the NU-sponsored National Awakening Party, the National Mandate Party (founded by the Islamic purist organization Muhammadiyah) and the PKS to achieve his majority vote. Analysts predict PKS will again be a key player in this election.

Few realize, however, that PKS draws its ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood, a group formed in Egypt in 1928 with a firm belief in Islamic world dominance. Crushed by the Egyptian government in the 1960s, members of the Brotherhood fled to Saudi Arabia, where they taught in the nation’s universities – influencing the future founders of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Sudan’s National Islamic Front.

The Brotherhood took root at a university in Bandung, West Java in the 1970s in the form of Tarbiyah, a secretive student movement that eventually morphed into the Justice Party (JP) in 1998. Winning few votes, JP allied itself with a second party to form the PKS prior to the 2004 elections.

Since then, PKS has gained widespread support and a solid reputation for integrity and commitment to Islamic values. Simultaneously, however, PKS leaders are vocal supporters of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Sadanand Dhume, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, says the two organizations have much in common. In its founding manifesto, PKS calls for the creation of an Islamic caliphate. Unlike JI, however, “the party can use its position in Parliament and its … network of cadres to advance the same goals incrementally, one victory at a time.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

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SAUDI ARABIA: PASTOR FLEES DEATH THREATS


Religious police, others warn key figure in expatriate church to leave.

LOS ANGELES, January 30 (Compass Direct News) – A prominent foreign pastor in Saudi Arabia has fled Riyadh after a member of the mutawwa’in, or religious police, and others threatened him three times in one week.

Two of the incidents included threats to kill house church pastor Yemane Gebriel of Eritrea. On Wednesday (Jan. 28), Gebriel escaped to an undisclosed city in Saudi Arabia.

A father of eight who has lived and worked as a private driver in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, Gebriel told Compass that on Jan. 10 he found an unsigned note on his vehicle threatening to kill him if he did not leave the country. On Jan. 13, he said, mutawwa’in member Abdul Aziz and others forced him from his van and told him to leave the country.

“There was a note on my van saying, ‘If you do not leave the country, we will kill you,” Gebriel told Compass by telephone. “Three days after that, [Aziz] said, ‘You’re still working here, why don’t you go out of the country?”

Aziz, another member of the mutawwa’in and a policeman had waited for Gebriel shortly after 9 p.m. A sheikh at a Riyadh mosque, Aziz raged at Gebriel for about five minutes, accusing him of being a Christian and trying to change the religion of others, said a Christian source in Saudi Arabia.

“He finished by telling Yemane to get out of the country or ‘measures’ would be taken,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons. He said Gebriel was in genuine danger of losing his life. “In meeting with me on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 15, Yemane himself was clearly very frightened,” said the source.

That night (Jan. 15), Gebriel told Compass, four masked men – apparently Saudis – in a small car cut off the van he was driving. “They said, ‘We will kill you if you don’t go away from this place – you must leave here or we will kill you,’” he said.

Gebriel subsequently took temporary refuge in a safe house in Riyadh, and after consulting with consular officials from four embassies on Tuesday (Jan. 27), the pastor was whisked away to another city the following day.

In 2005, the religious police’s Aziz had directed that Gebriel be arrested along with 16 other foreign Christian leaders, though diplomatic pressure resulted in their release within weeks.

“No doubt Sheikh Abdul Aziz is still burning,” said the local Christian source. “Nor may such type of death threat be possibly idle words. The current situation and circumstance remind me very much of the machine-gun murder of Irish Roman Catholic layman Tony Higgins right here in Riyadh in August 2004.”

 

Raids Feared

Gebriel, 42, led a church of more than 300 foreign-born Christians, though because of work obligations only a little over 150 are able to meet regularly in his villa for Friday worship. He fled without his family, as his wife and children had managed to relocate in Egypt in August 2007.

Gebriel and three others started the house church in Riyadh 10 years ago, the local source said, and only a few months ago the pastor handed leadership over to others in the church.

“But right now the entire church is very frightened,” the source said. “They are expecting a raid one Friday shortly – just like in 2005. The congregation doesn’t even know yet that we have whisked Yemane away from them as well as from the religious police.”

In April and May of 2005, the mutawwa’in arrested 17 pastors – two Pakistanis, two Eritreans (including Gebriel), three Ethiopians and 10 Indians. None were deported after their release.

“Are there signs that 2009 might prove to be such a year again? I think so,” the source said. “Every three or four years, there is a clamp-down in Riyadh. It seems that we should expect 2009 to be a year of repression. However, the underground church here is far better placed than heretofore to manage any such persecution.”

The Saudi regime has reportedly begun to restrain the mutawwa’in, which historically has acted as a virtual vigilante force enforcing the kingdom’s Sunni Islamic social codes as volunteer agents of the semi-autonomous Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice. The U.S. Department of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report noted that abuses by mutawwa’in have continued.

“Mutawwa’in (religious police) continued to conduct raids of private non-Muslim religious gatherings,” the report states. “There were also charges of harassment, abuse, and killings at the hands of the mutawwa’in, or religious police. These incidents caused many non-Muslims to worship in fear of, and in such a manner as to avoid discovery by, the police and mutawwa’in.”

In the past year, mutawwa’in sometimes have not respected the Saudi policy of allowing private worship for all, including non-Muslims, according to the report. Religious police are not allowed to mete out punishment, but in the past year the Saudi government has investigated several incidents in which the mutawwa’in were accused of violating restrictions on that and other activities, according to the state department report.

The mutawwa’in still wear no uniforms, but the report notes that they are now required to wear identification badges and can act only when accompanied by police. They are authorized to monitor the practice of non-Muslim faiths, display or sale of pornography, alcohol production, distribution or consumption, and adultery, homosexuality and gambling, among other violations.

While Saudi law forbids public practice of any religion besides Islam, foreigners are generally allowed to worship privately if their congregations do not grow too large.

With the Quran and sayings of Muhammad (Sunna) as its constitution, Saudi Arabia enforces a form of sharia (Islamic law) derived from 18th-century Sunni scholar Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab that calls for the death penalty for “apostasy,” or conversion from Islam to another faith, although the state department’s report notes that there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years.

Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy restricts media and other forms of public expression, though recently authorities have tolerated criticism of the mutawwa’in and the Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice.

“The government-controlled press frequently criticized mutawwa’in activity,” the report adds.  

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: CHRISTIAN IN MUSLIM ID CASE WINS RIGHT TO APPEAL


Arrest warrant rescinded for woman imprisoned because her father briefly converted to Islam.

ISTANBUL, December 2 (Compass Direct News) – A Supreme Court judge in Egypt on Nov. 22 granted Christian Bahia El-Sisi the right to appeal her conviction for falsification of documents – a charge stemming from her official papers not identifying her as a Muslim.

In addition, Judge Abdel Meged Mahmood on Nov. 25 rescinded a Sept. 23 warrant for El-Sisi’s arrest, declaring that she should be free pending a final decision. Mahmood is the same judge who in January freed El-Sisi’s sister, who had been convicted on the same charges of “forgery.”

The charges against El-Sisi and her sister, Shadia El-Sisi, claimed that their marriage certificates contained false information that they were Christians. Unknown to them, their religious identity officially changed 46 years ago due to their father’s brief conversion to Islam. Both are illiterate.

In the Nov. 22 hearing granting Bahia El-Sisi the right to appeal, Mahmood noted that her marriage certificate made no mention of her religion, according to her lawyer.

Investigation into the sisters’ religious status began following a visit made to their father, Nagy El-Sisi, himself in prison for forgery. Nagy El-Sisi, who had briefly converted to Islam in 1962 before reconverting three years later, obtained a forged Christian ID because there is no official means for converting from Islam in Egypt.

Under sharia (Islamic law), which heavily influences Egyptian law, the sisters are considered Muslims due to their father’s conversion. They learned that their father had briefly converted to Islam only recently, long after getting married, and had no idea they could officially be considered Muslims.

Both sisters were originally charged with forging official documents and sentenced in absentia in 2000; each was given a three-year jail sentence.

Shadia El-Sisi was not arrested until August 2007, and her first hearing was on Nov. 21, 2007 at the Shobra El-Khema criminal court. Judge Hadar Tobla Hossan sentenced her to three years in prison.

She was in prison until Jan. 13, when Mahmood retracted the sentence because she was unaware of her conversion by proxy and due to legal technicalities that voided incriminating evidence.

Bahia El-Sisi was held for over two months between May and July of this year. She was then released pending a final court decision. She told Compass about her recent experiences.

“There is no rest in prison, and I was tired and unable to get enough rest or enough food,” she said. “Everybody was [left to fend] for themselves.”

For more than four months she was in hiding, moving from place to place to avoid another arrest.

“I can’t go near the house, I move from one place to another,” she said before the arrest warrant was rescinded. “I rarely see my children, I am worried about them.”

On Sept. 23, Hossan ruled that El-Sisi had forged documents and that the three-year prison sentence would stand. In the Nov. 22 hearing, Mahmood ruled that there was no evidence El-Sisi had forged documents, as no such documents could be produced as proof; the marriage certificate in question did not state her religion, said her lawyer, Peter Ramses.

Mahmood ruled that Hossan’s decision was “so bad and so wrong,” said Ramses. “Then Mahmood gave a decision saying to the police, ‘Don’t arrest her.’”

Bahia El-Sisi’s six children anxiously awaited the outcome of the appeal, fearing that, in a domino effect, their religious status may also have to change following a negative outcome.

El-Sisi remained defiant.

“I am a Christian, I will remain Christian,” she told Compass. “Christ in front of me will guide my steps.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: CUSTODY BATTLES BRING ISLAMIC LAW INTO QUESTION


Human rights advocates look to international arena for help.

ISTANBUL, November 24 (Compass Direct News) – Egyptian human rights workers are looking to international bodies for support against Muslim judges who use sharia (Islamic law) to undermine custody rights of Christian mothers.

Despite provisions such as Egyptian law’s Article 20, which dictates that minors should remain with their mother until age 15, judges consistently rule in favor of Muslim fathers in custody disputes with Christian mothers. Islamist judges typically resort to Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that “principles of Islamic law are the principal source of legislation.”

Sharia-based decisions that rule contrary to Egyptian statutory law have led the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organization, to protest before the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR). The ACHPR was formed by the African Union to oversee the implementation of its Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

An investigation, decision and recommendation by the African Commission to the Egyptian government would lend considerable weight to the EIPR’s efforts to enforce Egyptian Personal Status Law, which states explicitly the mother’s right to custody of her children until they reach age 15.

The EIPR’s complaint before the African Commission accuses the Egyptian government of violating the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1984, the human rights organization said in a Nov. 10 statement. The EIPR referred to the case of 13-year-old twins Andrew and Mario Medhat Ramses, whom an appeals court awarded to their father Medhat Ramses Labib on Sept. 24 after a custody battle.

“The government’s treatment of the boys’ mother, Kamilia Lotfy Gaballah, constituted discrimination based on her religion and violated her right to equal protection before the law,” the EIPR stated. “The case also charges that the government violated the two boys’ right to freedom of religion and contravened the state’s legal obligation to protect child rights.”

The boys’ father, Labib, converted to Islam in 1999 after divorcing Gaballah to marry another woman. In 2006 Labib altered the official religious status of the boys and later applied for custody.

“Obviously in this custody decision, it is a flagrant disregard of the Personal Status Law, which ensures custody for the mother until the children are 15 years old,” said Hossam Bahgat of the EIPR. “In this case the judiciary chose to ignore statutory law and apply their own interpretation of sharia.”

The long-running case of the twins exemplifies the problem but is in no way unique. Sisters Ashraqat Gohar, 12, and Maria Gohar, 8, were taken from their Christian mother in January and placed in the custody of their Muslim father, Wafiq Gohar, despite his criminal record and the 12-year-old’s claims that he is an alcoholic.

The court ruling referred to Wafiq Gohar’s fears that “[the girls] would cherish a religion other than Islam, eat foods that are banned in Islam and go to church” as determining factors in their decision.

“It is a big problem we are facing in Egypt,” said Naguib Gobrail, president of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations. “The decision of the court clearly stated that according to Article 2, the main source [of legislation] is sharia, so the judge cannot apply the natural law.”

More recently, 3-year-old Barthenia Rezqallah of Tanta, near Cairo, remains in her father’s custody, despite a court order that she be returned to her mother pending a final verdict. Police have turned a blind eye to the court order out of fears that the child will practice Christianity rather than Islam, said Gobrail.

Gobrail said that international pressure may be the solution.

“Maybe a connection with someone of international character connecting with President [Hosni] Mubarak is the only way,” he said, “because he has the authority to give orders to the National Assembly to issue a law to make things equal between Muslims and Copts, especially for the children.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN ALLEGEDLY MURDERED


Family of young man accuses Muslim girlfriend’s relatives of torture, ‘honor killing.’

ISTANBUL, August 7 (Compass Direct News) – Local Pakistani police declared the death of a young Christian man in May to be a suicide requiring no investigation, but a high inspector has reopened the case and taken two Muslim suspects into custody.

Adeel Masih, 19, was found dead on May 4 in Hafizabad, Pakistan. His family and human rights lawyers believe the relatives of a 19-year-old Muslim woman, Kiran Irfan, with whom Masih had a one-year relationship, tortured and killed him. His family has dubbed his death an “honor killing.”

Marriage between Christian men and Muslim women is forbidden according to a strict interpretation of sharia (Islamic Law), and even social contacts such as these can incite violent reactions in Pakistan, a majority-Muslim nation of 170 million.

Local police in Gujranwala, in Punjab province, did not charge Irfan’s family with any crimes and effectively declared them innocent when Masih’s family first came to the station in May, according to the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), a Lahore-based Christian legal advocacy group.

CLAAS then presented the case to the office of inspector general of Punjab province, who reopened it on July 18. Afterwards the young woman’s father and one uncle, Muhammad Riasat, were taken into custody. The district police office is currently leading the investigation.

Members of the Masih family said that when they first tried to register the case with local police three months ago, officers did not cooperate in launching an investigation because the suspects were Muslim and the victim was a Christian, according to CLAAS.

“The police said, ‘We will first inquire whether Adeel has committed suicide,’ because the culprits told the police about the fact that their daughter wanted to embrace Christianity because of Adeel,” said Aneeqa Maria, a case worker for CLAAS. “[In] this way the police were biased and lingered on the matter, because if there is a long delay in the lodging of a first incidence report, the case becomes weak.”

On July 4 the Masih family brought the case to CLAAS, which applied to the district police in Gujranwala. The case moved up the police chain of command and went all the way to the office of the inspector general of Punjab. It was reopened two weeks later.

Masih’s friendship with Irfan began about one year ago. His mother learned of their contact six months later and warned his son to end it due to the dangers. She then told Irfan’s family about their relationship, which both families considered culturally inappropriate.

Irfan’s family began to harass Masih’s parents and threatened to kill him if they ever again heard that their son was contacting their daughter. They said they “would not allow a Christian man to disgrace Islam this way,” according to CLAAS.

Masih disappeared on May 1 while en route by motorbike to visit Irfan. Her father, Mohammed Irfan, and her two uncles, Muhammad Amjad and Muhammad Riasat, reportedly followed him. They then abducted him and threw his motorbike into a nearby canal, a local resident told CLAAS.

Two hours after Masih disappeared, Irfan’s family called his relatives, claiming he had committed suicide near a canal 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Gujranwala. The family searched for two days with the assistance of divers but failed to find him. Police found Masih’s body on May 4 in a canal in Hafizabad, 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Gujranwala.

According to Masih’s relatives, members of Irfan’s family held Masih in captivity and tortured him for two days.

An autopsy report obtained by Compass states Masih sustained scalp and brain injuries. There were marks on his hands and feet indicating he had been bound.

When Masih’s family originally tried to register the case, accusing the culprits of murder, kidnapping, obstructing justice and conspiracy, police took no action. After an autopsy was performed on Masih’s body, according to CLAAS, his family attempted once more to register the case, but police officials said they would first investigate if Masih had committed suicide.

According to CLAAS, the First Incidence Report of the crime was not registered with the police until May 20, nearly three weeks after Masih disappeared.

Attempts by Compass to reach English-speaking officers at the Gujranwala police station, where Masih’s family originally filed a complaint, were unsuccessful.

Irfan and Riasat are expected to be charged in a local criminal court for murder, kidnapping, obstructing justice and conspiracy. No date has been set for the trial.

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: ANOTHER CONVERT TRIES TO CHANGE RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION


Only second case of Muslim-born Egyptian endeavoring to officially alter affiliation.

ISTANBUL, August 7 (Compass Direct News) – One year after the first attempt by an Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity to change his religious identity, another convert this week became the second to make such a controversial legal request.

After 34 years of practicing Christianity, 56-year-old Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary filed a case at the State Council Court on Monday (August 4) to replace the word “Muslim” on his identification card with “Christian.”

El-Gohary is the second person raised as a Muslim to make such an appeal to the Egyptian government after Muhammad Hegazy, who filed his case on Aug. 2, 2007. Hegazy’s case was denied in a Jan. 29 court ruling that declared it was against Islamic law for a Muslim to leave Islam.

“He can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can’t convert,” the judge had told the administrative court, according to a member of Hegazy’s legal team.

The judge had based his decision on Article II of the Egyptian constitution, which enshrines Islamic law, or sharia, as the source of Egyptian law. The judge said that, according to sharia, Islam is the final and most complete religion and therefore Muslims already practice full freedom of religion and cannot return to an older belief (Christianity or Judaism).

“I am so surprised by the Administrative Court verdict refusing the case of Hegazy,” said one of El-Gohary’s lawyers, Nabil Ghobreyal. “This is against all the international conventions as well as the [Egyptian] constitution and Islamic law, which guarantee the freedom of belief.”

Ghobreyal said that if his client could not claim his rights in Egypt, he was determined to take the case to the U.N. International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

“No human has the right to choose the religion for someone else or to force him to embrace it, and no court has the right to order different religions in degrees,” Ghobreyal said.

Hegazy’s open declaration of conversion last August, the first of its kind in modern Egypt, caused public outcry. His father told the press that he would kill his son if he did not return to Islam. Since the court’s denial of Hegazy’s appeal, he and his wife have been in hiding with their baby due to numerous, serious threats on their lives.

“I wish for all converts to have one huge case, so that together we could show the world what is lacking in our rights,” Hegazy told Compass in an interview last week. Hegazy and legal experts have said that one case alone would not stand in court, but that many cases of converts should be filed concurrently in order to have any sway.

 

Impact on Daughter

El-Gohary accepted Christianity as a young man in his early twenties after becoming curious about the Bible. Through reading, he was convinced that the New Testament said the truth about Jesus. His family opposed his choice of faith and repeatedly pressured him to come back to Islam.

In an interview with Compass in November 2003, El-Gohary said that often he would come home to his farm in an undisclosed location to find his property vandalized. At that time he was considering leaving Egypt for the sake of his daughter.

“We want to live in a place with no persecution,” he had told Compass. He said he could make ends meet with his inheritance money, “but I’m afraid for my little girl, for her future. She loves Jesus so much.”

The convert has raised his 14-year-old daughter, Dina Maher Ahmad Mo’otahssem, as a Christian, and she has also embraced Christianity. When she turns 16 she must be issued an identity card designating her faith as Muslim unless her father can win this case on her behalf.

At school, she has been refused the right to attend Christian religious classes offered to Egypt’s Christian minorities and has been forced to attend Muslim classes. Religion is a mandatory part of the Egyptian curriculum.

The case of the father-daughter duo was filed against Minister of Interior Habib El’Adly, the president of the National Council of Human Rights and former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

“Man chooses his god and His God calls him, and there is no power on Earth that can separate them,” El-Gohary and his lawyers wrote in the appeal filed earlier this week. “He is totally free to reach Him as his mind leads him.”

El-Gohary’s lawyers criticized the decision of the court in Hegazy’s case to establish a hierarchy among religions, making Islam the highest.

“No court can decide for God how and to what standard religions are ordered, nor intervene in a person’s freedom to believe, since God will judge them and their choice,” they wrote.

The appeal stressed that the case was that of an Egyptian citizen and was filed on the basis of his individual freedoms granted in the Egyptian constitution and international conventions of human rights. When El-Gohary embraced Christianity, the document stated, he did so “believing that personal faith is a relationship between man and God” and was not a sectarian issue.

Report from Compass Direct News

IRAN: EX-MUSLIMS DETAINED FOR ‘APOSTASY’


Police interrogate converts to Christianity about faith, political activity.

ISTANBUL, July 9 (Compass Direct News) – Iranian authorities have detained two converts to Christianity in the southern city of Shiraz for eight weeks on suspicion of “apostasy,” or leaving Islam. In Iran, apostasy is a crime that can be punishable by death.

Mahmood Matin, 52, and Arash Bandari, 44, remain imprisoned in a secret police detention center known by its address, Sepah Street 100, located in the center of Shiraz since their arrest on May 15 (previously reported as May 13).

A draft penal code under discussion in Iran’s parliament this month may make the death penalty obligatory for those who leave Islam or use the Internet to encourage others to do so (see below).

During a visit on June 24, Matin’s wife was able to speak with him for five minutes as officials listened in, a source told Compass. Seated in a dimly lit room behind a glass window, the prisoner told his wife that there had been a misunderstanding and that he could not teach Christianity any more.

“They are pushing me to tell them that I am connected to a church outside [Iran] and that I am receiving a salary, but I told them that I am doing it on my own,” he told his wife, according to a source who requested anonymity for security reasons.

Despite Matin’s claims that he was being well treated, his wife told the source she believed otherwise.

“He was just trying to make me calm; that’s what I could see because he’s my husband and I know his face,” Matin’s wife said, according to the source. The source said that Matin was not even aware where he was being held until his wife told him during the visit.

The June 24 meeting was the first and only face-to-face contact Matin’s family has had with him since his arrest in May.

Matin and Bandari were detained with 13 other Muslim converts to Christianity while meeting together in a park in Shiraz. Police confiscated the group’s cell phones and “temporarily” released everyone except Matin and Bandari over the subsequent days.

According to the source, the 13 have been told they have an ongoing court case against them. They remain under house arrest and have been called in for questioning about alleged political activity and Christian faith.

Officials have not informed the 13 released Christians of the specific charges against them. But the nature of their questioning has led them to believe that they are suspected of apostasy and political crimes against the government.

Matin telephoned his wife several weeks after his arrest to tell her that he had been charged with apostasy and to request that she acquire a lawyer to take his case. But on June 22, she received a call from an official telling her that Matin did not need legal representation and inviting her to visit her husband in Shiraz.

“The caller did not say who they were, just that they were from the secret police and that the family could visit Matin on June 24 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” the source said. He said that Matin’s wife traveled 17 hours by bus from her home in Tehran to visit her jailed husband.

Matin has had no further contact with his wife and three children, ages 22, 18 and 12, since the June 24 jail visit.

Mandatory Death for ‘Apostates’ Debated in Parliament

ISTANBUL, July 9 (Compass Direct News) – A penal code that would mandate the death penalty for those who promote corruption, prostitution and apostasy even on the Internet is expected to go to debate soon in Iran’s parliament.

If passed, the penal code drafted last January would require execution of any Muslim who converts to Christianity. Under sharia (Islamic) law, apostasy is one of several “crimes” that can be punishable by death, although Islamic court judges are not required to hand down such a sentence.

The draft of the penal code under consideration explicitly sets death as a fixed punishment that cannot be changed, reduced or annulled.

Many believe that the government intends to use the proposed penal code to clamp down on the surge in conversions in Iran over the last few years. Commentators have called the surge a “mass exodus” from Islam, which in its Iranian Shiite version imposes harsh limitations on lifestyle and personal freedoms.

On July 2 Iran’s Members of Parliament voted to discuss as a priority the draft bill that seeks to “toughen punishment for harming mental security in society,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported last week. The news agency noted that the draft bill also includes the death penalty for “establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy.”

According to the current penal code, the death sentence is already applicable to rape, adultery and armed robbery, among other crimes. The draft adds apostasy and cyber-crimes to the list and stipulates that those convicted of these crimes should be punished as “mohareb” (enemy of God) and “corrupt on the earth,” according to AFP.

Over the last few years, the Internet and media such as television have been conduits of information on Christianity and are feared as sources of “corruption” of the Iranian people. The Internet is widely used in Iran despite restricted access for thousands of websites with “immoral” content or content – including Christian ones – deemed as insulting religion and promoting political dissent.

 

The number of executions in Iran reached 317 last year, up from 177 recorded by Amnesty International in 2006. Human rights organizations have criticized Iran for making excessive use of the death penalty, but Tehran insists it is an effective deterrent that is carried out only after an exhaustive judicial process, reported the AFP.

In a statement earlier this year, the European Union (EU) criticized the penal code draft and particularly Section Five on the death penalty for apostasy. The EU said this section and other parts of the code violated Tehran’s commitments under international human rights conventions.

Christians in particular have suffered persecution in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979. No converts to Christianity have been convicted of “apostasy” since international pressure forced officials to drop the death sentence of Christian convert Mehdi Dibaj in 1994. But in the years following the convert’s release, Dibaj and four other Protestant pastors, including converts and those working with converts, have been brutally murdered.

The murderers of the Christians have never been brought to justice, and local believers suspect the government played a role in the killings.

Christian converts are regularly arrested and imprisoned without due process, tortured and placed under surveillance. Muslims who have embraced Christianity have no right to practice their newfound faith, and the printing of the Bible in Farsi, the national language, has been banned.

Report from Compass Direct News