Egypt: More Christian Activists from Rights Group Jailed

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Like colleagues just released, MECA workers accused of ‘defaming Islam.’

CAIRO (Compass Direct News) -- Just days after two Christian activists from a human rights group were released from jail, Egyptian authorities took three of their colleagues into police custody over the weekend.

An Egyptian prosecutor has issued 15-day detentions to two of three Christian activists with Middle East Christian Association (MECA) who were jailed on Saturday (November 10). Officials detained the members of Canada-based MECA after the organization’s Egypt president finished a 90-day detention last week.

Released November 5 without charges, Adel Fawzy Faltas and MECA member Peter Ezzat had been alternately accused of insulting Islam, destroying Egypt’s reputation, owning a gun without a license and posing a threat to national security during the three-month interrogation.

“It’s the same thing again,” said Nader Fawzy, MECA international president, after speaking with lawyers who met the newly jailed activists over the past two days. “They are accusing us of defaming Islam and destroying the reputation of Egypt.”

MECA spokesperson Wagih Yaob, 45, and Victor George, 47, were taken from their Cairo homes at 4:30 a.m. on November 10, according to Fawzy.

Fawzy said that police treated Yaob “very badly,” and confiscated both Yaob and George’s personal belongings. “They even took George’s daughter’s laptop and university identification card,” Fawzy said.

Additionally, police stormed the Alexandria office of MECA lawyer Mamdouh Azmy at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday (November 10) and transferred the lawyer to a Cairo prison later that night.

After undergoing interrogation at a state prosecutor’s office in New Cairo over the weekend, Yaob and George were handed 15-day detentions, Faltas told Compass. Faltas said that Azmy is scheduled to appear before the prosecutor tomorrow.

The activists are being held in Cairo’s Tora prison.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Interior Ministry yesterday claimed to have no information about the rights workers, according to Reuters.

MECA has challenged the government on a number of sensitive issues since it began work in Egypt approximately 10 months ago.

Lawyer Azmy opened a case against the government in July on behalf of Christians whose village was destroyed in a three-day rampage in January 2000. At least 21 Copts were killed, 18 injured and several hundred homes destroyed when Muslims attacked Christians in the upper Egyptian town of el-Kosheh.

MECA activists were also quick to publicize the case of a Muslim convert to Christianity who is suing the government for the right to change the religion listed on his official documents. Faltas interviewed Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy in an online chat room the weekend before his own arrest.

Hegazy, whose second hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, has since gone into hiding to escape death threats.

Many Muslim scholars teach that Islamic law, enshrined in Egypt’s constitution, commands death for converts from Islam.

Widespread Torture

Upon his release last week, Egypt MECA president Faltas had been optimistic that the government was beginning to understand his organization’s goal of promoting human rights and fighting discrimination against Christians.

“If they understand that we are working for the good of all Egyptians, they [the government] will support us,” he told Compass. “I don’t think they will arrest me again.”

Now jailed, Yaob had told Compass last week that he was happy about the organization’s growing strength.

“The arrest has made us stronger, because now everyone knows about us,” said the activist. He rattled off a litany of problems Egypt’s Christians face, including church attacks, difficulty converting away from Islam and alleged kidnapping of Coptic women, all motivating his work with MECA.

Fawzy said that he hoped the MECA members would not be mistreated while in police custody.

Human Rights Watch recently condemned the “widespread use of torture in Egypt.” In a November 7 report, the organization welcomed the conviction of two police officers for raping a detainee in January 2006. The November 5 sentencing by Giza’s criminal court was a rare case of police accountability in Egypt, where officers often have a free hand in torturing detainees, according to the HRW report.

Egypt’s Christians, known as Copts, are estimated to make up 10 percent of the country’s population. The majority of Copts belong to the Orthodox Church, though significant numbers of Catholics and Protestants exist.

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct