17 OF 22 Egypt Christians Released, But One Dies

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Believers walk free on bail amid pressure to return to Islam

By Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- 17 of 22 Christian converts who were arrested in Alexandria late October, have been granted bail but one of them died and others still in prison suffer "degradation and abuse," a human rights group said Thursday, Nov. 13.

The Christian who allegedly died in police custody was identified as Isam Abdul Fathr, a man with "high blood sugar levels and bowel problems before his arrest, and was clearly not well enough to survive interrogation and torture," The Barnabus Fund said.

He was among Christians arrested in Alexandria between Oct. 21 and Oct. 24 by Egyptian security forces, after they abandoned their Muslim faith.

"Isam was a Muslim and had been implicated with helping to obtain false papers for the converts," said the U.K. based organization, which investigates the plight of persecuted Christians in especially Islamic nations.

A Christian who converts to Islam in Egypt can receive new ID papers with a new adopted Muslim name within 24 hours, but that is apparently impossible for a Muslim who converts to Christianity.


While Isam died, others in custody were or still are "severely beaten, tortured and...raped," the well informed Barnabus Fund said in a communique send to ASSIST News Service (ANS).

"Seventeen have now been released on bail with cases pending against them, while five others are still being detained," in difficult circumstances The Fund added. It said that Mariam Girgis Makar, who was one of the first to be arrested, is still being held "in the same quarters as prostitutes – in an attempt to add to her degradation."

An official, who was not identified, reportedly informed her that "had her crime been of a nature such as prostitution she would already have been released,". But since she was a convert she "would never get out," The Barnabus Fund reported.


Mariam Girgis Makar, who recently accepted Jesus Christ as her Personal Savior and Lord, has had "great pressure placed on her to return to Islam and to have a tattoo of a cross on her arm removed," the organization said.

Such tattoos are very common amongst Egyptian Christians. Mariam has also suffered serious sexual abuse at the hands of the police. After having been released and then re-arrested once, Mariam’s husband, Yusuf Samuel Makari Suliman, is now one of those finally out of prison.

"He has revealed that on various occasions he was beaten and tortured. Once he was beaten in front of his wife by eight men wielding lengths of plastic cord in an attempt to force them both to return to Islam," The Barnabus Fund said.


Yusuf’s former Muslim name was Muhammad Ahmad, a very common name. Police have scoured records of offenders in the area with the same name in order to find outstanding charges that they can pin against him, the organization said in its statement.

Egyptian authorities have not yet reacted to the charges. Human rights watchers say that the detention of the five remaining in prison comes up for review on November 20 when they will either be released or have their period of custody extended.

Those released are being kept under close surveillance by the police in the hope of finding out the identities of yet more converts, said The Barnabus Fund, which has close contacts with the converts.