After 9 Years of Harassment, Imprisonment, and Torture, Egypt’s First ‘Official’ Christian Convert Returns to Islam

During Hegazy's  periods of incarceration, he was subject to different forms of abuse. World Watch Monitor
During Hegazy’s
periods of incarceration, he was subject to different forms of abuse.
World Watch Monitor

Egyptian lawyer Karam Ghobrial was clearly distraught as he talked about the saga both he and his client, once Muslim-turned-Christian Mohamed Hegazy, have endured over the past month. That was before Hegazy – the first Egyptian to openly seek, in 2007, a change from Muslim to Christian on his ID card – finally declared on Friday, 29 July his return to Islam, the departure from which has caused him endless woes.

In late June, a court had ordered Hegazy – then still a Christian – be released on bail for charges that should not have been brought in the first place: charges, the lawyer insists, which had either passed their statute of limitations, or from which he was already cleared.

Yet the man who dared to ‘officially’ leave Islam could not walk free for weeks – until now. And he has publicly blessed Muhammad as “the Chief-most among Allah’s creation” on a YouTube video, in which he also spells out the Shahada, the Islamic proclamation of allegiance.

Hegazy broke new ground in 2007 as the first Egyptian to openly seek a change from Muslim to Christian on his ID card. He took a new ‘Christian’ name, Bishoy Armeya, but his government ID card from 2010 still showed his original ‘birth’ name.

It was a step he judged necessary to save his son the suffering he has borne under a system mandating religious identification on every Egyptian’s ID card, the path to one’s own civil existence in the country. He had become a Christian, of his own choice, at the age of 16, in 1998. In 2002, he was briefly jailed and tortured, then – later with his family – went into hiding. In December 2013, Hegazy was re-arrested, and charged with two counts relating to 2009 and 2013 – one for “protesting without permission” and the other for “defamation of religion”. The first, says the lawyer, he had been cleared of, while the statute of limitations expired on the second while he was still in jail. Still, Hegazy had been kept in prison anyway.

‘Go to the court and check’

The latest episode of the convert’s ordeal started on 29 June 2016, when the New Cairo Fifth Settlement Court ordered Hegazy be released on a bail of EGP 5,000 ($US 560). When lawyer Ghobrial tried to carry the order through, he found himself and his client in a procedural maze that, over the past month, took them to nearly half a dozen jurisdictions around the country:

“It is most unfortunate that, just as I feared, my client has not been allowed to walk free,” said Ghobrial to World Watch Monitor, in the middle of trying to effect a release order that should have normally taken a day, but was still dragging on for much longer – with no hope in sight.

In an atmosphere of misinformation, orchestrated by the police, the prosecution and the prison authorities, the only source of reliable information about his client came from messages by fellow detainees leaked to their visiting families, and in turn to the lawyer.

With nothing having happened for three days, the lawyer decided to meet the chief warden of Tora Prison, where Hegazy had been held intermittently since 2013. “I went early in the morning of 29 June to know why my client was not released, despite the judicial order. The warden told me he received no court order. ‘Go to the court and check,’ he said.”

At the court, the lawyer was told the order had indeed been dispatched. “Back at the prison, I was told the least they would accept – in absence of a court order – was an order by the prosecution office, thus sending me back to the court a second time [a distance of about 30 kilometres each way].”

Eventually, Ghobrial managed to get the prosecution order. “It was then that the warden refused to let Hegazy go. He said he could not release him in the absence of an ID or a birth certificate to identify the inmate scheduled for release.”

The lawyer protested that it was on the grounds of Hegazy’s established identity that he was kept in prison for so long. But Ghobrial was given no satisfactory answer.

Now Ghobrial had to produce a copy of Hegazy’s birth certificate. To do that, the lawyer had to obtain a new Power of Attorney, including a specific phrase to allow him to have a birth certificate issued on behalf of his client.

“The registry clerk resisted giving me the document with the specific wording,” Ghobrial said, believing the “collective intransigence had to do with my client’s disavowal of Islam” at the time.

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SOURCE: World Watch Monitor