Like many rugby league fans I was stunned by the breaking news concerning the Melbourne Storm on Thursday evening. The Storm were never my number one team – that was Parramatta. However, the Storm were a team that I admired greatly, a brilliantly coached football team that had dominated rugby league in Australia for the last five years. They were the team to beat and they beat Parramatta in the Grand Final of 2009. Most fair-minded fans of the game were in awe of the Melbourne Storm and I used to love their football.
Now I feel cheated, as most rugby league fans do. Given the mighty resurgence of Parramatta in the lead up to last year’s Grand Final and their appearance in the Grand Final after some incredible wins in the finals, I felt the loss of the Grand Final along with the other Parramatta supporters – but the team had done their best and they hadn’t chocked.
Now we learn that they were playing an unfairly talent inflated team, paid for my illegal means and under the table payments, in total disregard of the salary cap rules that Parramatta and the other teams in the NRL were adhering to. The Parramatta team were playing a cheating team. Certainly many of the players and even some of the team management appear to have known nothing about the salary cap breaches. Yet by the actions of a few, the entire team were in fact cheats.
Parramatta have a right to feel cheated out of a premiership last year and Manly two years before that. These teams didn’t win the Grand Finals they played in, they lost them, so they don’t deserve the premiership title either. But it would have been a fairer opportunity for premiership glory to have been playing on a level playing field.
Shame on Melbourne – what hollow victories you had in 2007 and 2009, and what hollow minor premierships you gained from 2006 to 2008. At the moment I believe the Storm should be removed from the NRL completely – however, in time that view will be tempered, should the stories of players and officials of the Storm not knowing about the cheating prove true. At the moment however, it is difficult to believe that more people within the Melbourne Storm didn’t know about the cheating – including the players who received the extra payments.
More is to be revealed concerning this story in days to come I think.
Judge rules Iranian convert from Islam requires protection from persecutors.
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15 (CDN) — Mohammad Azbari, a Christian convert from Islam who has fled to Kenya, knows what it’s like to be deported back to his native Iran.
When it happened in 2007, he said, Iranian authorities pressured the government of Norway to return him and his wife Gelanie Azbari to Iran after hearing rumors that he had forsaken Islam.
“When we arrived in Iran, we were interrogated by security and severely beaten,” he told Compass in Nairobi, where he and his family fought to persuade the Kenyan government to decline Iran’s demand to deport him back. “My son got scared and began urinating on himself.”
A cousin managed to secure their release, but not before Iranian authorities had taken valuable – and incriminating – possessions.
“They took everything that I had – laptop, camera and some of my valuables which contained all my details, such as information concerning my baptism, and my entire profile, including that of my family,” Azbari said.
Azbari had been employed in the Iranian army before fleeing, he said, and authorities were monitoring his movements because they were concerned that, having left Islam, he might betray his country and reveal government secrets.
When he and his Christian wife, a native of the Philippines, first fled Iran in 2000, he was still a Shia Muslim. The previous year authorities had arrested his wife after finding a Christmas tree in their house in Tehran; Azbari was not home at the time and thus escaped arrest, but as authorities took his wife away they left their then 3-year-old son unattended.
“I was put in a small cell for two days,” Gelanie Azbari told Compass, through tears. “While in the cell two police guards raped me. It was the worst of all the nights I have had in my lifetime. Since that time I have been sick both physically and mentally.”
Authorities soon took her husband in for interrogation, suspecting he was a spy for foreign states.
Still a Muslim, Azbari allowed his wife to follow her Christian faith. He had grown accustomed to watching her pray as a Christian and watch the Jesus Film. As time went by, he developed an urge to embrace Christianity. They started reading the Bible together.
The idea of trusting in and following Christ filled him with fear, as it was against the law to convert from Islam – it would mean losing his life, he said.
“I started questioning our leaders, who see themselves as God,” he said. “The claim of Jesus as the prophet as well as the Word and spirit of God is indicated in the Quran. When I read in the Gospels of Jesus giving people rest, it made me want to decide to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
Sensing danger, the family fled to the Netherlands in 2000, and it was there that Azbari embraced Christianity. In 2003 the family left the Netherlands for Norway.
Azbari was an avid student of his new-found Lord; while in Norway, he became seminary teacher of Christology.
Throughout, Azbari said, the Iranian government had been monitoring his movements. In 2007 Iranian officials persuaded the Norwegian government to send him, together with his wife and son Reza Azbari, back to Iran.
After their interrogation and mistreatment upon arrival in Iran, Azbari managed to call his sister, who connected him with the army general cousin who helped secure their release. His sister took them in, but his brother in-law was not happy with their Christian prayers; he began quarreling with his wife, Azbari’s sister.
“They began looking for trouble for us,” Azbari said. “Sensing danger, we then left the home and went to find a place to stay. Everywhere we tried to book in we were rejected, since we were people who had been deported.”
They began attending a church made up primarily of foreigners, where Azbari’s wife and son felt more at home than he did. His army general cousin found out and, angry that they had sought refuge in a church after he had secured their release, grew furious.
“He was very angry, as they had also discovered this information from the laptop they had confiscated and threatened that I should be arrested,” Azbari said. “I then decided to move to central Iran to look for employment, leaving my family behind.”
The couple felt they could not go to Gelanie Azbari’s homeland as the Philippines has such friendly relations with Iran, he said.
“To go back to Philippines or Iran is quite unsafe for us,” Azbari said.
In October 2009, his sister notified him that police were looking for him and his family.
“I then decided to flee the country through Turkey, then to Kenya where I was arrested and then deported to Turkey,” Azbari said. “In Turkey they could not allow me to enter the country, hence I was returned to Kenya.”
They were arrested in January for illegal entry into Kenya. On March 4, a judge at Chief Magistrate Court No. 3 of Kenya dropped the charges against him, declaring that Azbari required international protection from his persecutors. The court also directed that Azbari be given back all his documents and the 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($US130) in bail he had deposited.
They had applied for asylum with the United Nations. Appearing before the court on behalf of Azbari on Jan. 15, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had argued that he deserved asylum because his religious status had forced him to flee from his country of origin. On March 4 the court found that Azbari and his family require international protection under Section 82 of the laws of Kenya, and he was set free.
“We have witnessed the love of God and the sacrifices of what it means to love one in word and deed,” Azbari said moments after the decision. “We saw the love of Christ from the people who understood and stood with us.”
He thanked friends who introduced his family to Nairobi Pentecostal Church, which provided them spiritual strength. Three attorneys represented Azbari: Wasia Masitsa, a legal officer for the Urban Refugee Intervention Program; Christian lawyer John Swaka; and Laban Osoro of the United Nations. Rene Kiamba of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce had helped him post bail.
Report from Compass Direct News
After months of asking, delegation wins clearance to enter Kandhamal district.
NEW DELHI, January 29 (CDN) — Weary of international scrutiny of troubled Kandhamal district in Orissa state, officials yesterday finally allowed delegates from the European Union (EU) to visit affected areas – as long as they do no fact-finding.
A team of 13 diplomats from the EU was to begin its four-day tour of Kandhamal district yesterday, but the federal government had refused to give the required clearance to visit the area, which was wracked by anti-Christian violence in 2008. A facilitator of the delegation said that authorities then reversed themselves and yesterday gave approval to the team.
The team plans to visit Kandhamal early next month to assess the state government’s efforts in rehabilitating victims and prosecuting attackers in the district, where a spate of anti-Christian violence in August-September 2008 killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
When the federal government recommended that Orissa state officials allow the delegation to visit the area, the state government agreed under the condition that the diplomats undertake no fact-finding, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency. The government stipulated to the EU team, led by the deputy chief of mission of the Spanish embassy, Ramon Moreno, that they are only to interact with local residents. The delegation consented.
Delegates from the EU had also sought a visit to Kandhamal in November 2009, but the government denied permission. The diplomats from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland were able to make it only to the Orissa state capital, Bhubaneswar, at that time.
Ironically, three days before the government initially denied permission to the EU team, the head of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohan Bhagwat, visited Orissa and addressed a huge rally of its cadres in Bhubaneswar, reported PTI on Tuesday (Jan. 26).
While Bhagwat was not reported to have made an inflammatory speech, many Christians frowned on his visit. It is believed that his organization was behind the violence in Kandhamal, which began after a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed by Maoists (extreme Marxists) on Aug. 23, 2008. Hindu extremist groups wrongly blamed it on local Christians in order to stir up anti-Christian violence.
On Nov. 11, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the state assembly House that 85 people from the RSS, 321 members of the VHP and 118 workers of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the VHP, were rounded up by the police for the attacks in Kandhamal.
It is believed that New Delhi was hesitant to allow EU’s teams into Kandhamal because it has indicted India on several occasions for human rights violations. Soon after violence broke out in Kandhamal, the European Commission, EU’s executive wing, called it a “massacre of minorities.”
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was attending the ninth India-EU summit in France at the time of the violence, called the anti-Christian attacks a “national shame.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, took up the issue “strongly with Singh,” reported The Times of India on Sept. 30, 2008.
On Aug. 17, 2009, the EU asked its citizens not to visit Kandhamal in an advisory stating that religious tensions were not yet over. “We therefore advise against travel within the state and in rural areas, particularly in the districts of Kandhamal and Bargarh,” it stated.
The EU’s advisory came at a time when the state government was targeting the visit of 200,000 foreign tourists to Orissa, noted PTI.
Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Praveen Kumar suggested that the advisory was not based on truth.
“There is no violence in Kandhamal since October 2008,” he told PTI. “The people celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Day as peace returned to the tribal dominated district.”
Before denying permission to the EU, the Indian government had restricted members of a U.S. panel from coming to the country. In June 2009, the government refused to issue visas for members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to visit Orissa. The panel then put India on its “Watch List” for the country’s violations of religious freedom.
Local human rights activist Ajay Singh said that while the state government had made some efforts to rehabilitate the victims, a lot more needed to be done.
An estimated 300 families are still living in private relief camps in Kandhamal, and at least 1,200 families have left Kandhamal following the violence, he said. These families have not gone back to their villages, fearing that if they returned without converting to Hinduism they would be attacked, he added.
Singh also said that authorities have asked more than 100 survivors of communal violence living in an abandoned market complex known as NAC, in G. Udayagiri area of Kandhamal, to move out. He said it is possible they were asked to leave because of the intended visit of the EU team.
Of the more than 50,000 people displaced by the violence, around 1,100 have received some compensation either from the government or from Christian and other organizations, he added.
Additionally, the state administration has to do much more in bringing the attackers to justice, said a representative of the Christian Legal Association. Of the total 831 police cases registered, charges have been filed in around 300 cases; 133 of these have been dropped due to “lack of evidence,” said the source.
Report from Compass Direct News
Court in West Java rescinds mayor’s order revoking permit.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 29 (CDN) — Christians have won a court battle restoring the right to worship in their building in Depok City, West Java.
Depok Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail on March 27 had revoked the building permit for a multipurpose building and house of worship for Gereja Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) church following protests by Muslims. A court in Bandung on Sept. 17 rescinded the order that revoked the church building permit, paving the way for congregants to resume worship there.
Head Judge A. Syaifullah read the decision of the three-judge panel, which found the mayor’s reasoning for canceling the building permit inadequate. The mayor had said that most people living near the church objected to its building in Jalan Pesanggrahan IV, Cinere Area of Depok City.
“These objections by the local residents should have been raised when the building permit was going through the approval process, not protesting afterwards,” said Syaifullah.
Syaifullah added that the mayor also should have taken the views of church members into consideration.
“In this case, the revocation of the building permit was based upon the objections of one group in the community without considering those from the church,” he said.
Construction of the church building had begun in 1998, shortly after the permit was issued, but halted soon afterward due to a lack of funds.
When the project began anew in 2007, members of a Muslim group from the Cinere Area of Depok City and neighboring villages damaged the boundary hedge and posted protest banners on the walls of the building. Most of the protestors were not local residents.
The court determined that lawyers for the church successfully demonstrated that church leaders had followed all Depok City procedures for the building permit. Betty Sitompul, vice-chair of the HKBP church building committee, stated that the church court win was a victory for all Christians.
“We won because we had followed all the procedures and had completed all the required documents,” she said.
In early June the church had filed suit against the mayor’s action in a provincial court in Bandung, with church lawyer Junimart Girsang arguing that the mayor’s revocation of the permit was wrong.
Girsang said that the court had finally sided with justice for all Indonesians.
“The judges made the right decision and had no choice, because all of the papers for the permit were done properly,” he said.
The church had been meeting in a naval facility located about five kilometers (nearly three miles) from the church building since the permit was revoked, causing great inconvenience for church members, many of whom did not have their own transportation.
In South Sumatra Province, another HKBP church outside the provincial capital city of Palembang is trying to overcome objections by Muslim protestors in order to complete construction of its building in Plaju.
Church leaders acknowledge they had not finished the application process for a permit before beginning construction. They said they went forward because after they applied to the mayor of Palembang, he told them to talk with the governor of South Sumatra. After talking with Gov. Alex Noerdin and securing his approval on Feb. 10, church leaders began construction on a donated plot of 1,500 square meters only to face a demonstration by members of several Muslim organizations on June 27.
The South Sumatra Muslim Forum (FUI Sumsel) organized the demonstration. Carrying a copy of a mayoral decree dated May 2009 ordering a halt to construction, the protestors gathered outside the building site, listened to speeches and then destroyed a bridge leading to it before demanding that the government ban the building project.
Applications for church permits are often fraught with difficulty in Indonesia, leaving many congregations no choice but to worship in private homes, hotels or rented conference facilities. Such gatherings leave churches open to threats and intimidation from activist groups such as the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front), in recent years responsible for the closure of many unregistered churches.
Report from Compass Direct News
Bakery owner had lost her Jewish dietary law certificate because of her faith.
JERUSALEM , July 15 (Compass Direct News) – For three long years a Jewish believer in Christ struggled to keep her bakery business alive after the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the country’s highest religious governing body, annulled her kashrut (Jewish dietary law) certificate because of her faith.
Pnina Conforti, 51, finally gave a sigh of relief when the Israeli Supreme Court on June 29 ruled that her belief in Jesus Christ was unrelated to her eligibility for a kashrut certificate. While bakeries and restaurants in Israel are not required to obtain such a permit, the loss of one often slows the flow of customers who observe Jewish dietary laws and eventually can destroy a business.
Conforti said that the last three years were very difficult for her and her family, as she lost nearly 70 percent of her customers.
“We barely survived, but now it’s all behind us,” she said. “Apparently, many people supported us, and were happy with the verdict. Enough is enough.”
Conforti, who describes herself as a Messianic Jew, had built her Pnina Pie bakeries in Gan Yavne and Ashdod from scratch. She said her nightmare began in 2002 with an article about her in “Kivun,” a magazine for Messianic Jews in Israel.
“Soon after, the people of the Rabbinate summoned me and told me that my kashrut certificate was annulled because I do not profess Judaism,” she said.
Food prepared in accordance with kashrut guidelines is termed kosher, from the Hebrew kasher, or “fit,” and includes prohibition of cooking and consuming meat and diary products together, keeping different sets of dishes for those products, and slaughtering animals according to certain rules. News of the faith of the owner of the Pnina Pie bakery in Gan Yavne spread quickly, soon reaching extremist organizations such as Yad le’Achim, a sometimes violent Orthodox Jewish group.
“They spread around a pamphlet with my photo, warning people away from acquiring products from my business,” Conforti said. “One such a pamphlet was hung in a synagogue. However, I refused to surrender to them and continued working as usual.”
Four years later, in 2006, Conforti decided to open another patisserie in Ashdod, near her original shop in Gan Yavne, in southern Israel. The business flourished, but success didn’t last long.
“A customer of mine, an Orthodox Jew from Ashdod, visited his friends and relatives in Gan Yavne,” she said. “There in the synagogue he came across a pamphlet from 2002 with my photo on it. In addition to boycott calls, I was also described as a missionary. My customer confronted me, and I honestly told him I was a believer.”
Soon thereafter the Rabbinate of Ashdod withdrew the kashrut certificate from her shop there, she said.
“Pamphlets in Hebrew, English and French about me begun circulating around the town,” Conforti said. “They even printed some in Russian, since they saw that the customers of Russian origin continue to arrive.”
The withdrawal of the certificate from the shop in Ashdod in 2006 was a serious blow to her business. Conforti decided to take action, and her lawyer appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court. Judges Yoram Denziger, Salim Jubran and Eliezer Rivlin ruled that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel overstepped its authority.
“The Kashrut Law states clearly that only legal deliberations directly related to what makes the food kosher are relevant, not wider concerns unrelated to food preparation,” the panel of judges wrote.
In response, the Chief Rabbinate accused the judges of meddling in religious affairs.
Soon after she petitioned the Supreme Court, Conforti said, the Chief Rabbinate had offered her a deal by which it would issue her business a kashrut certificate but with certain restrictions, such as handing the keys of the bakery to a kashrut supervisor at night. Conforti declined.
Tzvi Sedan, editor-in-chief of “Kivun,” said the Supreme Court verdict was paramount.
“It’s important not only for Messianic Jews, but also for every other business owner who has to suffer from the arbitrariness of the Rabbinate,” Sedan said. “But I still want to see this decision implemented fully in reality.”
At press time Conforti still hadn’t received the certificate. She was waiting for a team of inspectors from the Rabbinate to inspect the business prior to issuing her the certificate.
A Jew of Yemenite origin, Conforti said she was raised in religious family but came to trust in Christ following her encounter with a Christian family during a visit to the United States.
“There I found Christ and embraced him as my personal Savior,” she said. “I do not engage in [evangelistic] activity, but if someone starts a conversation about my faith, I will speak openly about it.”
Report from Compass Direct News
During this month (April 2009) the world’s biggest democracy – India goes to the polls and, according to the BBC, an electorate of 714 million people will be eligible to vote, reports James Varghese, special to ASSIST News Service.
“The election is expected to be an exceedingly close race between India’s two main parties, the Indian National Congress (Congress) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and a number of regional and caste-based parties,” said a BBC story.
“Voting will be staggered over a period of one month with the first polls opening on 16 April 16.”
Now comes the news that a political party in India has made a statement that if it wins the election, it would ban all anti-Christian groups and offer the reservation of jobs, status and land for minorities.
According to a story from the Global Council of Indian Christians and carried on their website — www.persecution.in — the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) said on Tuesday that it if it comes to power, it would ban the Rashtriya Swayam Sevaks (RSS National Volunteer Servants), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, and also called World Hindu Council) and Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
According to the website this statement was made by Abdul Khaliq, the Party secretary general, while releasing a manifesto.
The party also said that it would amend the Constitution to enable 15 per cent reservation of jobs for minorities, including 10 per cent for Muslims.
According to the website, the party said it would offer “leakage proof reservations for Scheduled Caste (SC)s and Scheduled Tribe (ST)s, SC status for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians and land for landless poor belonging to SC and ST communities.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Christian mother wins right to high court appeal regarding ruling that favored Muslim father.
ISTANBUL, February 20 (Compass Direct News) – Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud last week granted the mother of 14-year-old twins Andrew and Mario Medhat Ramses the right to appeal a custody decision awarding her sons to their Muslim father.
Muslim convert Medhat Ramses Labib gained custody of the boys last September, contrary to Article 20 of Egypt’s Personal Status Law, which states children should remain with their mother until age 15. The boys’ mother, Kamilia Lotfy Gaballah, won the right to appeal on Feb. 11.
“We all have a little bit of hope, new hope,” said George Ramses, the twins’ older brother. “Of course, they are a little afraid about everything, but generally they are excited.”
With support from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Gaballah will appeal the Family Court’s decision awarding custody to the father before the Court of Cassation. Family Court decisions are not usually given recourse to the Court of Cassation, one of Egypt’s highest courts, and require special referral from a public prosecutor.
EIPR Director Hossam Bahgat stressed that the Court of Cassation will be examining the law on which the decision was based, not the decision itself.
“The Court of Cassation will pronounce a decision on the legal rule that Christian children, when one of their parents converts to Islam, should be automatically moved to the Muslim parent’s custody,” he said. “So it is very important in terms of changing the legal rule, but according to the law it will not have a direct impact on Andrew and Mario themselves.”
Preliminary hearings are scheduled to begin on March 2.
The twins will celebrate their 15th birthday in June of this year. At 15, Egyptian children of divorcees have the legal right to choose which parent they want to live with. Ramses told Compass that he is skeptical about whether his brothers will be given this right.
“The whole law is that kids should spend the first 15 years with their mum, and then they get to choose who they want to live with,” Ramses said. “[Choosing] is the second part of the rule that was not applied to us, so we don’t know actually what will be the case.”
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.
The boys are now at the center of two separate disputes, both of which have roots in the complex interaction between Islamic and secular law in Egypt: whether children should be automatically awarded to the Muslim parent, and whether they therefore should automatically convert to Islam.
Custody battles between Muslim fathers and Christian mothers have typically been instances where Islamic law has predominated over secular legislation. Sharia (Islamic law), which the Egyptian constitution declares as being the source of law, states that a non-Muslim should not have authority over a Muslim.
In the case of Andrew and Mario, this sharia provision meant that they should not be left under the jurisdiction of their non-Muslim mother. The automatic and compulsory conversion of the twins, following their father’s decision to become Muslim, is the second area of contention EIPR is working on behalf of Gaballah to resolve.
The issue once again shows the contradictory stances of Egyptian civil law, which reflects both freedom of religion and Islamic thought. A fatwa (religious edict) issued by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, regarding the case of Andrew and Mario states, “The religion of the two children should follow their Muslim father’s, unless they change their religion with full will after puberty.”
Although this statement allows Andrew and Mario the right to choose their religion “after puberty,” conversion from Islam is not only extremely difficult in Egypt but also dangerous.
Egypt has ratified a number of human rights treaties allowing advocacy groups like EIPR recourse to international watchdogs and advisory bodies. One of these, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), has agreed to examine the case. The commission has asked both parties to submit written statements by March in preparation for an initial hearing in May.
The European Union of Coptic Organisations for Human Rights (EUCOHR) has also weighed in, petitioning the European Parliament for help.
“We have gone to the European Parliament with a legal document detailing about 30 to 40 breaches of international covenants like the International Declaration of Human Rights,” said Ibrahim Habib, vice-chairman of EUCOHR.
Habib said he hopes involving international bodies such as these will raise the profile of the case and put pressure on the Egyptian judiciary to rule impartially. Such attention could also have positive implications for the much harassed Coptic community at large.
The report filed by EUCOHR and the U. S. Coptic Foundation for Legal Assistance, which explores violations of such pacts as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ends with this statement:
“This is a call for justice and to save the two children from the coercion, persecution and injustice with which they are overburdened and, it is respectfully requested that a prompt action be taken to save those children and their future. Also, the annulment of the judgements against the two children is promptly requested.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Copt who became Muslim, then returned to Christ, gets ‘new’ faith officially recognized.
ISTANBUL, January 8 (Compass Direct News) – An Egyptian convert to Christianity who spent 31 years officially identified as a Muslim has won a rare legal victory to be officially registered in his “new” faith.
An Alexandrian administrative court awarded Fathi Labib Yousef the right to register as a Christian at a Dec. 20 hearing in the Mediterranean coastal city.
Yousef, in his early 60s, was raised Coptic but converted to Islam in 1974 in order to divorce his Christian wife. Becoming Muslim typically allows for an easy nullification of marriage to a non-Muslim within sharia (Islamic law), and conversion is often employed for this reason by both men and women in Islamic countries.
He reverted to Christianity in 2005 after an Orthodox clerical council gave its official permission, according to the advocacy group US Copts Association.
Yousef applied to the civil registry to acknowledge his change of religion the same year. But the government refused to acknowledge his re-conversion, so he filed a lawsuit against the Egyptian prime minister, interior minister and Civil Status Organization chairman.
The court awarded him the right to revert to Christianity since it is his right according to Egyptian civil law, said Peter Ramses, an attorney familiar with Yousef’s case.
Ramses said this case is an important development for Egypt to live up to freedoms promised in the constitution. Unfortunately this verdict does not represent a legal sea change, he said, but rather the correct decision of an individual judge.
“We only have some judges giving these decisions,” he said. “In Egypt we have many judges who don’t work by the law, but by sharia.”
And Yousef is not assured that his official religious identity will stand. His attorney, Joseph Malak, said other Egyptian Christians have won the right to return to Christianity only to see government officials stop implementation.
“The stumbling block is the police or civil registry office could refuse to carry it out on paper,” he said. Other measures that could block implementation, he said, include appeals against the decision by courts “infiltrated by Muslim fundamentalist ideologies.”
Last year Egypt’s top administrative court allowed 12 converts to Islam to return to Christianity, but the decision was appealed before the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court.
The court was going to rule in November concerning the legality of reversion to Christianity, but its decision has been postponed indefinitely. If the court had upheld the decision, Egyptian converts to Islam would have had the constitutional right to return to Christianity.
But for now, victories such as Yousef’s depend on the will of each judge.
“It means every judge issues a ruling at their own discretion, [even though] the law in existence is in favor of these people,” said Samia Sidhom, English editor of Egyptian Christian weekly Watani.
Changing an official religious identity from Islam to any other religion in Egypt is extremely difficult. While Article 47 of Egypt’s civil law gives citizens the right to choose their religion, Article II of the Egyptian constitution enshrines sharia as the source of Egyptian law.
Traditional interpretation of sharia calls for the death of Islamic “apostates,” or those who leave Islam, but in Egypt legal authorities give somewhat more flexibility to those born and raised as Christians before converting to Islam.
Yousef decided to return to Christianity as a matter of religious belief and doubts about Islam, his lawyer said.
Ramses said he hopes to see more decisions in favor of Christians wanting to revert to their religion. He said many in Egypt convert to Islam not for religious reasons, but to secure a divorce, attain higher social status or marry a Muslim.
Religious reversion cases are difficult to win, but far more difficult is for Muslim-born converts to Christianity to officially change their religion, although a few have tried. One such person is Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, a convert with an open case at the State Council Court to replace the word “Muslim” on his identification card with “Christian.”
El-Gohary, 56, has been a Christian for 34 years. His case is only the second of his kind in Egypt. Muhammad Hegazy filed the first in August 2007, but his case was denied in a January 2008 court ruling that declared it contrary to Islamic law for a Muslim to leave his religion.
Report from Compass Direct News
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