Egyptian Christian Remains In Jail Over Blasphemy Charges

Bishoy Armia Boulous
Bishoy Armia Boulous

A noted convert in Egypt who was sentenced to five years in prison for documenting attacks on Christians has won a partial victory on appeal but remains in jail on prior blasphemy charges.

An appeals judge ruled Dec. 28 that Bishoy Armia Boulous, known as Mohammed Hegazy until his conversion in 1998, was not guilty on a charge of spreading information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and not guilty on the related charge of spreading false news “bound to weaken” Egypt’s prestige or harm the “country’s national interests.”

Boulous, however, was found guilty of an unidentified charge and sentenced to one year in prison. The specific article of Egypt’s Criminal Code that Boulous allegedly violated — possibly inciting sectarian strife — was not revealed, but according to the law the judge must do so in sentencing documents to be issued later this month.

Because Boulous, now in his early 30s, spent more than a year in prison waiting for his appeal to be heard, he should have been released at the conclusion of the Dec. 28 hearing but instead was held without an opportunity to post bail stemming from blasphemy charges filed against him in 2009 by two Islamist lawyers.

Attorneys believe the state, in effect, is punishing Boulous for his conversion by holding him past the charges’ statutory limit and doing so without any possibility of bail.

Karam Ghobriel, one of Boulous’s attorneys, filed a complaint about the denial of bail for Boulous. By comparison, the incendiary Muslim cleric Abo Islam, who was charged with blasphemy for ripping up and burning a Bible during a 2012 protest in Cairo in front of the U.S. Embassy, was allowed to remain free during his trial and appeal. The cleric eventually was sentenced to five years in prison. He is the only Muslim in Egypt to be convicted of blaspheming Christianity.

Ghobriel and human rights activists familiar with the case have charged the government with targeting Boulous at the time of his arrest in early December 2013. Internal documents of the Ministry of Interior show that it employs informants to follow converts from Islam. One such informant was following Boulous in Minya when he was arrested.

An official listed as Lt. Amer Hassan reported that “one of our secret sources called and told us that one of the converts, who is called Bishoy Armia Boulous, whose previous name was Mohammed Hegazy, is present at the Agricultural Association in Minya, and covering some of the religious violence and persecution of Copts.” Hassen noted “how dangerous the situation is” and was accompanied by another officer to investigate.

Hassan arrested Boulous at a cafĂ© at the Agricultural Association in Minya, about 160 miles south of Cairo, confiscating a camera, four flash drives and a notebook. Officials claimed Boulous was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite, and was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Minya.

Christians in Minya faced a well-documented spree of violence that month, including public kidnappings, assaults and attacks on several church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press/Morning Star News

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