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Police Arrest 22 Christians in New Crackdown


23 October 2003

ome 22 Christians, many secret converts from Islam to Christianity, have been arrested by police since 21 October in a disturbing new crackdown on apostates and their supporters.



The Christians have been taken from Alexandria to police stations in Cairo and are being beaten, interrogated and tortured. The dramatic crackdown began on Tuesday 21 October with the arrests of two converts Mr Yusuf Samuel Makari Suliman (whose former Muslim name was Muhammad Ahmad Imam al-Kurdi) and his wife Mrs Mariam Girgis Makar (formerly Saher As-Sayid Abd al-Rani). The following day some seven others were also arrested and taken to the office of the Attorney General. Yesterday (23 October) the number rose to 22 as more and more converts and Christians who have tried to assist them were rounded up and arrested in dramatic sweeps by police. Local Christians fear the arrests will continue and many other converts from Islam, who have been living quietly as Christians may now be arrested in the next few days. The 22 are all being charged with falsifying ID papers.

The initial arrest of Yusuf and Mariam came about as a result of information obtained by police through the torture and interrogation of a Christian who revealed that the couple were converts from Islam and that they were involved in leading other Muslims to convert to Christianity. An investigation was opened by police in the Al-Muski quarter of Cairo (admin no 2003/3793) and Yusuf and Mariam were arrested in Alexandria, beaten, abused, tortured and taken by police to a station in Al Muski, Cairo. Cairo Christians brought food for the couple but the police refused to allow this to be given to them.

Local Christians have managed to obtain the services of a team of Christian and Muslim lawyers to defend the accused. They have managed to secure the release of Yusuf who will be fined, but should be allowed to leave the police station where he is being held later today. However, a case against him will still be outstanding. His wife Mariam will be held in prison for a month whilst the investigation is being conducted against the couple. She is due to be transferred to a prison later today. The other 20 Christians who have been arrested are currently being held at a police station in el Galaa, Cairo, but could be moved from there at any time.

ID PAPERS

The converts and the other Christians have been charged with falsifying official identity cards and papers. Whilst Egypt has no law against apostasy from Islam, in practice converts are actively punished by the police in this 90% Muslim country and often face imprisonment, beatings and torture on various pretexts in order to try to force them to return to Islam. A Christian who converts to Islam in Egypt can receive new ID papers with a new adopted Muslim name within 24 hours. However, it is impossible for a Muslim who converts to Christianity to change their name to a Christian one at all. Thus they will always be regarded as Muslims in the eyes of the law.

This means that female converts to Christianity will be prohibited from marrying Christian men (also illegal under Egyptian law), any children will be treated as Muslims, and educated as such at school, and converts will have to be buried as Muslims. There are also a myriad of other matters making it virtually impossible for Christians to follow their faith safely and authentically whilst they retain a Muslim name and ID. As a result many converts are forced into a position where their only option is to apply for any official papers (such as passports) through the correct channels but using an assumed Christian name, which is technically not recognised by the state. If this is later discovered they are vulnerable to a charge of falsifying official documents which can be used as a way of punishing them for their apostasy.


APOSTASY IN EGYPT AND ISLAM

All the major schools of Islamic law (shari'a) agree that converts from Islam 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 Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan the death sentence for leaving Islam is actually part of the law.

In Egypt many converts have faced imprisonment, beatings and torture even though technically there is nothing illegal about their conversion. 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.

Supreme Court Justice Said Al-Ashmawi, was even quoted in a 1996 report by Middle East Concern, as having said, "It is understood that converting from another faith to Islam is approved, while converting from Islam to another religion is prevented. It is not mentioned that it is not allowed, but it is understood; there are technical problems which make it impossible - I hold that Egyptian law is actually Islamic law." Western-based human rights monitors have alleged that some Egyptian judges rule as if Islamic shari'a were in force.

Naglaa, a female Egyptian convert from Islam and her Christian husband Malak have been held in prison since 26 February 2003 on similar charges of falsifying ID papers, though again the real reason is Naglaa's conversion from Islam. 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.

APOSTASY CAMPAIGN

Barnabas Fund is currently engaged in a major international campaign on behalf of converts from Islam focusing on the Islamic law of apostasy and the treatment of converts in Islamic societies. The Fund is calling upon Muslim religious leaders to condemn the harsh treatment of converts and to make public statements calling for a reform of shari'a teaching on apostasy to clearly affirm that Muslims who choose to convert to another faith are free to follow their personal convictions without fear of punishment or harassment.