Letter Highlights Torture, Lack of Process for Egyptian Citizens to Change Religious Affiliation
12/19/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that nine members of the United States Congress today sent a letter to the Egyptian attorney general calling for the immediate release of Bishoy Armia Boulous, a Coptic Christian convert from Islam jailed by Egyptian authorities since December 3, 2013.
The letter, led by Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida, states that Bishoy was jailed on charges “clearly related to his religious conversion” and that he has “reportedly been harassed and physically attacked on several occasions by officials of the Tora Prison in South Cairo.” Sent to Attorney General Hisham Barakat and President el-Sisi, the letter goes on to say, “The dropping of all charges against Mr. Boulous and his swift release will help to demonstrate not only your administration’s commitment to equal protection under the law…but that millions of men and women across Egypt need not fear government prosecution simply for choosing to change their religious beliefs.”
Bishoy, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy, gained widespread domestic and international attention in 2007 when he became the first known Egyptian citizen to sue the Egyptian government for refusing to change the religious affiliation listed on his identification card from Muslim to Christian. Soon after the suit became public, several Islamic religious leaders called for Bishoy’s death. He was subsequently detained and tortured by Egyptian authorities on several occasions while his wife and children were eventually forced to flee the country. In 2009, Bishoy was charged with blasphemy, or “defaming Islam,” a charge that has since been renewed. Bishoy’s next hearing is set to take place on December 28.
With only a few exceptions, all Egyptian citizens must have their religious affiliation listed on their identification card. This affiliation determines what laws apply to certain citizens and the enrollment of children in religious classes. While it is technically legal for any citizen to change this affiliation, in practice only citizens converting to Islam are issued new documentation.
The letter is also signed by Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona, co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus and one of Congress’ strongest remaining advocates on behalf of persecuted religious minorities.
ICC’s Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, said, “This letter could not be more timely. For years Bishoy has suffered unimaginable hardship because of his courageous decision to demand a simple freedom that should be guaranteed, namely the right to change one’s faith. We applaud these members of Congress for taking a strong stance on behalf of Bishoy and echo their call for his swift release. How can the Egyptian government claim to protect its citizens’ rights to freedom of belief when anyone who attempts to change their faith is refused official recognition and subsequently prosecuted and tortured? The answer is, they can’t.”
The full text of the letter can be found by clicking on this link.