Egyptian Convert to Christianity Arrested on ‘Bogus Charges'

December 11, 2013 - 11:50 AM

minya

The damaged interior of the Saint Moussa Church is seen a day after it was torched in sectarian violence in Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - An Egyptian convert to Christianity who sued the government for permission to change his religion on his ID card reportedly was arrested last week on "bogus" charges of inciting sectarian strife.

Press reports say that Bishoy Armia Boulous, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy, was arrested on Dec. 4 at a cafe in Minya, a city 161 miles south of Cairo, and is likely being tortured.

"Egyptian-born Muslims who have converted to Christianity cannot reflect their change of religious affiliation on identity documents, and in many cases, these converts also face intense social hostility," Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday. "In fact, Mohamed Hegazy...was arrested last week reportedly for proselytizing and inciting sectarian strife, among other bogus charges."

Hegazy, now Boulous, had a camera and four flash drives on him at the time of his arrest. Security forces claim that he was working for Coptic Christian-owned "The Way TV," that he was proselytizing, and that he was creating a "false image" that there is violence against Christians in Minya.

He is currently being held while the police investigate charges of inciting violence, according to what the chief of Minya police told the Egyptian media. Several Egyptian outlets also reported that he is being investigated for espionage.

“The police have made it seem like they are arresting him for different reasons other than him being a convert from Islam," Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights told Morning Star News.“There is no doubt that he will be tortured. Those who have previously been in his place have been tortured – if not by the police, they are beaten by their fellow inmates.”

Hegazy/Boulous gained notoriety in 2008 when he attempted to change his papers and legal status from Muslim to Christian. In the legal decision that followed, Judge Husseini found that Hegazy "can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he cannot convert," because according to Sharia law, Islam is the final and most complete of all religions. A conversion would constitute a disparagement of the official state religion and entice other Muslims to convert.

After the ruling, Boulous went into hiding because of death threats. In April 2010 his case was suspended indefinitely, and then in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood ousted the regime of  President Hosni Mubarak.

Minya, the city of Boulous' most recent arrest, was the site of several Muslim Brotherhood attacks on churches and Christians. According to a Reuters report, 20 churches were torched in Minya after the Egyptian army cracked down on supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi in August.

Boulous is one of many persecuted religious minorities in Egypt.

In his testimony on Tuesday, Dr. Jasser, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said his group has recommended for the past three years (2011-2013)  that the United States designate Egypt as a "country of particular concern," which would mark it "as among the world's worst religious freedom abusers."

Jasser specifically mentioned Egypt's failure to protect the religious freedom of Copts and other religious minorities, its continued domestic and international support for blasphemy and religious defamation laws, its pursuit of blasphemy cases against its own citizens, including Copts and disfavored Muslims, and its repeated failure to bring their sectarian attackers to justice.

He also said Washington should demand that Egypt remove religion from official identity documents, among other remedial actions.