Persecution of Ex-Muslims (Egypt)

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Christian convert from Islam and her Christian husband held in prison for several months, in an attempt to force her to return to Islam, divorce her husband, and to raise her child as a Muslim

Naglaa, a Christian convert from Islam, and her husband Malak have been held in prison since mid-February in an effort to force Naglaa to give up her Christian faith and return to Islam.

Naglaa and her husband Malak Gawargios Fahmy were arrested at the airport as they tried to leave Egypt for Cyprus. They were sentenced to be detained for four days by the El Nozha District Attorney. However, on 26 February this was extended for a further 45 days and for another 45 on 18 March, and the couple are still being held despite this period having now passed. Police are trying to force Naglaa to give up her Christian faith and return to Islam, to leave her husband, and to raise her children as Muslims.
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All the major schools of Islamic law (Shari’ah) agree that converts from Islam (apostates) should be put to death, their marriages annulled, and their children and property taken away. This tradition is upheld and taught by most Muslim religious leaders around the world today. In countries like Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia the death sentence for leaving Islam is actually part of the law. Whilst in Egypt there is technically no law banning apostasy, converts are still actively punished by the police and often face imprisonment, beatings and torture on various pretexts in order to try to force them to return to Islam. Some have died in prison. Several have had to flee the country. Converts have sometimes been arrested under the country’s emergency legislation which allows for the holding of suspects without charge or trial for indefinite periods.
Christian Couple Imprisoned for Conversion
Project Open Book, May 7, 2003

Christian convert committed into a mental hospital by parents. Beaten, whipped and given potentially fatal injections, doctors say he will remain there unless he returns to Islam

An Egyptian convert from Islam to Christianity is being held against his will in a Cairo mental hospital, where supervising doctors have told him he must stay unless he recants his faith and returns to Islam.

Gaser Mohammed Mahmoud, 30, was committed to the El-Khanka Hospital for Mental and Neurological Health in early January by his adoptive parents, after they learned he had become a Christian two years earlier. Since his forced confinement, he reportedly has been beaten, whipped and given potentially fatal injections by hospital personnel.
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After a failed escape attempt, Mahmoud was locked into a solitary room for a month by his nurses, who had learned that he was being institutionalized for apostasy. Although he was allowed visitors initially, the hospital has since refused to admit any known Christian acquaintances asking to see him.

Earlier this week, Mahmoud told Compass that he had first admitted to his mother that he was a Christian six months ago. Angered, his father notified local Muslim sheikhs, who in turn reportedly threatened to kill him.

To prevent this, his mother called local state security police officials, who took him into protective custody on a day-time basis, allowing him to return home at night. But at her husband’s insistence, she finally agreed to commit him to the El-Khanka Hospital, located on the northern outskirts of Cairo.
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So with the assistance of local state security police, Mahmoud’s mother bowed to her husband’s pressure and committed their son to forced confinement in the El-Khanka Hospital on January 10.
Egypt: Convert Locked into Mental Hospital
Compass Direct, May 13, 2005

Muslim sheikh jailed in Egypt for already 18 months is “under arrest for insulting Islam by becoming a Christian”. Told he will remain there unless he agreed to work as an informer against other converts to Christianity

A Muslim sheikh jailed in Egypt for 18 months has declared from his prison cell that he is under arrest for “insulting Islam” by becoming a Christian.

Egypt’s secret police transferred Bahaa el-Din Ahmed Hussein el-Akkad, 57, to the Wadi el-Natroun Prison last month. He was told he would remain there indefinitely unless he agreed to work as a government informer against other converts to Christianity.

According to the prisoner’s Cairo attorney, Athanasius William, his client remains incarcerated in this desert prison “only because he has chosen a different belief, to be a Christian.”

El-Akkad was imprisoned without charges for more than a year after officials of the State Security Investigation (SSI) arrested him in Cairo on April 6, 2005.

Although subjected to repeated interrogations, the former Muslim was never told the specific accusations against him. But several of his cellmates spread rumors that he was converting and baptizing people into Christianity, sparking verbal abuse and at least one severe beating from a fellow prisoner.

When the courts finally ordered El-Akkad’s release from provisional detention 10 weeks ago, SSI authorities deliberately ignored the ruling. Instead, they held him in their Gaber Ibn Hayyan office in Giza and then transferred him to the Wadi el-Natroun Prison, located 60 miles north of Cairo along the highway to Alexandria.

William told Compass it was strictly illegal for the SSI to have re-arrested El-Akkad and jailed him indefinitely “without the orders of a legally authorized official,” as required under Article 280 of the Egyptian penalty laws.
Egypt: Christian convert from Islam jailed
Compass Direct, October 18, 2006

At least 22 Egyptian Christians arrested in a crackdown on apostates and those who support them, and are being beaten, interrogated, tortured and raped in an attempt to persuade them to return to Islam

At least 22 Egyptian Christians have been arrested over the last week, many of them converts from Islam to Christianity, in a crackdown on apostates and those who support them, a British watchdog group has said.
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"The Christians have been taken from Alexandria to police stations in Cairo and are being beaten, interrogated and tortured," the Barnabas Fund said in a statement.

The group has also received information that Mariam and other women may have been raped in an attempt to persuade them to renounce their Christian faith and return to Islam, said Cook in a telephone interview.

As of last Thursday, 22 Christians had been arrested, but the number has grown since then, Cook said.
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According to Egyptian law, it is illegal for Muslim converts to Christianity (or any Muslim) to change their names from a Muslim name or marry non-Muslims.

That makes it impossible, for instance, for a woman who has converted to Christianity to marry a Christian man. Her children are therefore considered Muslims, and when she dies, she will be buried in a Muslim cemetery, thereby effectively curtailing any Christian activity and keeping her and her offspring in the Muslim fold.
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However, it is not illegal for Christians to convert to Islam in Egypt, and changes from a Christian name to a Muslim name are performed legally in such cases within 24 hours.
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"Whilst Egypt has no law against apostasy from Islam, in practice, converts are actively punished by the police in this 90-percent Muslim country and often face imprisonment, beatings and torture on various pretexts in order to try to force them to return to Islam," the Barnabas Fund said.

Egyptian Supreme Court Justice Said Al-Ashmawi explained that while conversion away from Islam is not specifically illegal, it is understood not to be acceptable.
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"It is not mentioned that it is not allowed, but it is understood; there are technical problems that make it impossible. I hold that Egyptian law is actually Islamic law," Al-Ashmawi said.
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According to Dr. Helmy Guirguis, president of the United Kingdom Coptic Association, Muslims who convert to Christianity and don't change their names are forced to live a double life.
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According to Guirguis, the process of making Egypt with its 10 to 12 million Christians, most of whom are Copts, into a more Islamic nation has been going on for decades.
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"[Late Egyptian] President Anwar Sadat...started the process of Islamization of the country, with the end result that he himself was assassinated [by Islamic fundamentalists in 1981]," Guirguis said

Ex-Muslim attempts to officialy convert to Christianity. Registry office staff swear at and beat him, and opposing lawyers advocate he be convicted of “apostasy” and sentenced to death

In the latest hearing of a Muslim-born Egyptian’s effort to officially convert to Christianity, opposing lawyers advocated he be convicted of “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, and sentenced to death.

More than 20 Islamic lawyers attended the hearing on Sunday (Feb. 22) in Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary’s case to obtain identification papers with Christianity designated as his religious affiliation. Two lawyers led the charge, Ahmed Dia El-Din and Abdel Al-Migid El-Anani.

“[El-Din] started to talk about the Quran being in a higher position than the Bible,” one of El-Gohary’s lawyers, Said Fayez, told Compass. “[El-Din said] people can move to a higher religion but not down, so people cannot move away from Islam because it is highest in rank.”

Memos submitted by opposing lawyers asserted that cases such as El-Gohary’s form part of a U.S. Zionist attack on Islam in Egypt, that Christianity is an inferior religion to Islam and that Copts protect and defend converts from Islam at their own peril.
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El-Gohary was not present at the hearing, as attendance would put him at extreme personal risk. He had planned to obtain papers authorizing attorney Nabil Ghobreyal to act as his proxy representation in court, but staff members at the registry office swore at and beat him, lawyers said.
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Copts and Christian converts have to face such systemic prejudice daily in the battle for their rights, he said.

“Our rights in Egypt, as Christians or converts, are less than the rights of animals,” El-Gohary said. “We are deprived of social and civil rights, deprived of our inheritance and left to the fundamentalists to be killed. Nobody bothers to investigate or care about us.”

El-Gohary, 56, has been attacked in the street, spat at and knocked down in his effort to win the right to officially convert. He said he and his 14-year-old daughter continue to receive death threats by text message and phone call.

But he also has received text messages, he said, of encouragement from other Muslim-born converts too fearful to take a similar stand.
Islamic Lawyers Urge Death Sentence for Convert
Compass Direct, February 26, 2009

Christian convert and her Coptic husband go into hiding from police and her Muslim family, after being arrested for marrying a Christian and her family completely burning off her Coptic cross tattoo

Christian convert Raheal Henen Mussa and her Coptic husband are hiding from police and her Muslim family for violating an article of Islamic law (sharia) that doesn’t exist in the Egyptian penal code.
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According to a strict interpretation of sharia, Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men, although the opposite is allowed, and Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that sharia is the basis for legislation.

The two have not committed a crime according to Egyptian law since they didn’t seek official marriage status, but police and Mussa’s family are pursuing them because they violated Islamic law, advocacy groups say.

“They have not violated the law, but the family and the police are applying their own unwritten law,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “Islamic law interprets that if a Muslim girl marries a non-Muslim man, even on paper, they are breaking the law of God, not the law of man.”
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Formerly known as Samr Mohamed Hansen, Mussa converted to Christianity three years ago, before marrying Ryiad. Police arrested her as she came home from her workplace at a Cairo salon. They identified her by the Coptic cross tattoo on her right arm – a common mark among Copts.

She was transferred to a station operated by the secret police, where she stayed until Sunday (April 19), when her family took her. While in their custody, her family completely burned off her cross tattoo, according to the U.K. Coptic Association.

Mussa escaped from them on Tuesday (April 21). She and her husband fled Cairo and are in hiding. If the two are caught, advocates fear, they could be forcibly separated, arrested and beaten, with Mussa being returned to her family.
Convert Arrested for Marrying Christian
Compass Direct, April 22, 2009

Convert to Christianity and his wife and child go into hiding after Muslim scholars issue fatwas calling for his death. Wife threatened with death because she married a convert

Former Muslims who have become Christians and who want to change the religion shown on their ID cards have been driven into hiding, along with their families and threatened with death.

"Many Muslim scholars issued a fatwa, saying I must be killed," says Mohammed Hegazy in the latest edition of World Update on the Persecuted Church by Release International.

"On television, people were saying if they meet me on the streets, they will kill me. Many fatwas have come up saying I must be killed."

Mohammed and his wife and daughter are now in hiding. His wife has been threatened with death because she married a convert to Christianity.

Mohammed took the unprecedented step of going to court to change his religion from Islam to Christianity on his national ID card – but the court ruled against him. He says he has been arrested and tortured to try to get him to reveal the names of his Christian contacts.

A second convert to Christianity has been driven into hiding after an Egyptian court refused him permission to change his religious status. According to news agency Compass Direct, a court body, the State Council, declared his request to be a threat to social order and a violation of Sharia law.

Ex-Muslim loses case to officialy convert to Christianity. Authorities illegally detain him and his daughter and confiscate his passport. Several calls for 'spilling his blood' have been issued

Egyptian authorities have prevented Maher El-Gowhary, a Muslim-born Christian convert, from leaving the country. He was detained at Cairo Airport. His passport confiscated and he was advised that he is barred from traveling on orders from a 'higher authority'.

Maher and his 15-year-old daughter, Dina, who also embraced Christianity, were traveling to China on 17th September 2009, on a two-week holiday.

Ibrahim Habib, chairman of United Copts GB, who spoke with El-Gowhary during his detainment at the airport, said that Maher was treated very badly by airport security, and was told of his travel ban "less than an hour before departure."

Human rights lawyer Nabil Ghobrial joined Maher at the airport. He filed an incident report at the airport police station. According to Ghobrial it is against the law to prevent a citizen from traveling unless there is a legal reason.
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57-year-old Maher El-Gohary, whose Christian name is Peter Athanasius, filed the second ever lawsuit of a Muslim-born Egyptian against the Egyptian Government to officially alter his identification documents to reflect his new Christian identity. He lost the case on June 13, 2009.
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Maher and Dina have been living in hiding ever since he filed his lawsuit, Muslim radicals have called him an apostate and several calls for 'spilling his blood' have been issued. He has to change frequently where he lives, to evade being killed, and friends supply him with food. "We cannot sleep, eat or go out in the street. What have my daughter and I done? we have just filed a lawsuit to get out rights, so why are they holding us against our will?"

He went on to say, "I filed a lawsuit to get my Christian details recorded on my ID, I asked for the same treatment as the Baha'is who could be issued ID cards that didn't identify them by religion. I was refused because I am a Christian." He said that Baha'is are protected by the government, unlike converts to Christianity, who are left on purpose by the government to fend for themselves, in order to be killed. "The State Security incites drug dealers to kill us, as they give them the impression that we are working for police investigations as spies on them. They tried to kill us on several occasions."

"If they give Muslim-born Christians the right to change, I can assure you, that all of Egypt will convert to Christianity." He went on to relate in the Coptic News interview that during the hearings of his lawsuit, Muslim lawyers warned the presiding judge, Hamdi Yassin, that if he allows a change in Maher's case, this would "open the gates of Hell on them," meaning a torrent of Muslims converting to Christianity.

The number of Muslim-born converts to Christianity in Egypt, who are keeping their faith secret, has reached several million. Due to the State Security's persecution, torture and rape, they have established outside Egypt an organization called "Freed by Christ" as well as "Way TV" to speak on their behalf to the West, and expose their sufferings at the hands of State Security. It is headed by the Christian convert Dr. Mohamad Rahouna, ex-dean of the Faculty of Arabic Studies, Minya University, who fled to the United States.

Muslim curses Christian and shouts "Allahu Akbar" while attempting to behead him for leaving Islam

Abdelmassih wrote that as 57-year-old, Muslim-born Maher el-Gowhary left his secret lodging somewhere in metropolitan Cairo with his lawyer when two unknown men on a motorbike attacked him with daggers.

"They were aiming at my neck to behead me," said Maher in an interview with the US-based Hope Coptic TV Channel. "Something inspired me to turn and give them my shoulder, instead of facing them, which was lucky."

Maher said that he fell to the ground covered in blood. "Had it not been for the interference of passers-by who were unaware of my identity and my efforts to quickly stand up and defend myself, I would have been dead by now," he said.

During the attack, one of the men shouted the Islamic Jihadi cry of "Allah is Great" while stabbing him. The attackers called him an infidel, and cursed his Christian faith. Maher said that he was left with heavy wounds; however, he fears seeking medical treatment.

He condemned the negative attitude of the Egyptian authorities. Maher also said religious leaders who call for the killing of others "just for being non-Muslims" are responsible for the attempts made on his life

Police break into converts home and assault him in front of his wife and children. Confiscating his computer, books and CDs, he is taken to jail and charged with "defaming Islam" for converting from Islam to Christianity

An Egyptian Christian faced another tense day December 25, fearful of leaving his home amid death threats, after he was charged with "defaming Islam" for converting from Islam to Christianity, Christians said.
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Thabet reportedly learned about the Christian faith through a Christian friend, as well as websites and other media. During these years, reportedly shared his doubts about Islam and told others what he was learning about Jesus Christ.

Angry that he questioned Islam, Ashraf's Muslim friends arranged for him to meet with several Islamic leaders, according to investigators. During the meeting, the Islamic leaders also expressed anger toward him for his questions and turned in Ashraf to state security officials, Christians said. He has been interrogated multiple times and was told he could not talk to anyone about his religious views, according to Christians familiar with the case.

One evening, police reportedly arrived at Ashraf's home, kicking down his front door and assaulting him in front of his crying wife and children. They confiscated his computer, books and CDs, and then took him to jail, according to VOM and other rights investigators. "He was repeatedly interrogated and spent time in solitary confinement,"VOM said.

After 132 days in jail, Ashraf was informed of the "defamation of religion" charge against him. He also learned that Muslim leaders in his neighborhood "bribed his wife to divorce him" and take away his 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, local Christians said. BosNewsLife was not immediately able to confirm the alleged bribe independently.

Egypt's new constitution limits religious freedom. Criminal court sentences entire Christian family (a woman and her seven children) to 15 years in prison for converting from Islam

The 15-year prison sentence given to a woman and her seven children by an Egyptian court for converting to Christianity is a sign of things to come, according to alarmed human rights advocates who say the nation's Islamist government is bad news for Christians in the North African country.

A criminal court  in the central Egyptian city of Beni Suef  meted out the shocking sentence last week, according to the Arabic-language Egyptian paper Al-Masry Al-Youm. Nadia Mohamed Ali, who was raised a Christian, converted to Islam when she married Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab Mustafa, a Muslim, 23 years ago. He later died, and his widow planned to convert her family back to Christianity in order to obtain an inheritance from her family. She sought the help of others in the registration office to process new identity cards between 2004 and 2006. When the conversion came to light under the new regime, Nadia, her children and even the clerks who processed the identity cards were all sentenced to prison.

Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, said conversions like Nadia's have been common in the past, but said Egypt's new Sharia-based constitution "is a real disaster in terms of religion freedom.”

"Now that Sharia law has become an integral part of Egypt's new constitution, Christians in that country are at greater risk than ever." - Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice

"The cases will increase in the future," Tadros said. "It will be much harder for people to return to Christianity."

President Mohamed Morsi, who was elected last June and succeeded the secular reign of Hosni Mubarak, who is now in prison, pushed the new constitution through last year.

Tadros said the constitution limits the practice of Christianity because “religious freedom has to be understood within the boundaries of Sharia.” He added that the constitution prescribes that the highest Sunni authority should be referred to as an interpreter of the religion clause contained in the constitution.
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"Now that Sharia law has become an integral part of Egypt's new constitution, Christians in that country are at greater risk than ever," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice. "This is another tragic case that underscores the growing problem of religious intolerance in the Muslim world. To impose a prison sentence for a family because of their Christian faith sadly reveals the true agenda of this new government: Egypt has no respect for international law or religious liberty.”

Morsi has been under fire for failing to take action against rising violence inflicted on Egypt’s Christians. In August, the roughly 100-family Christian community in Dahshour was forced to flee after Muslim neighbors launched attacks against the Christians’ homes and property. Morsi said the expulsion and violence was “ blown out of proportion.” Radical Salafi preachers -- who have formed alliances with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood -- called  for Muslims to shun Christians during Christmas.

Sekulow urged U.S. diplomatic intervention in Egypt to promote religious freedom. Morsi is scheduled to meet with President Obama, possibly in March.

”The U.S. State Department must play more of a role in discouraging this kind of persecution," Sekulow said. "The U.S. should not be an idle bystander. The U.S. provides more than $1 billion to Egypt each year. The State Department should speak out forcefully against this kind of religious persecution in Egypt.”