Defense claims anti-Christian bias motivated ‘Islamic’ verdict.
by Peter Lamprecht
ISTANBUL, October 26 (Compass) – A U.S. Christian faces one year in prison after a trial in which he was accused of raping and beating Magda Refaat Gayed at his Cairo shelter for troubled women.
Following last month’s final hearing in the case of Shafik Saleh Shafik, the three judges of Cairo’s Abbassiya Criminal Court No. 15 had postponed the verdict three times. Finally, on October 20, the court sentenced Shafik, who also holds Egyptian citizenship, to one year in prison. But so far they have failed to release the written verdict.
According to one defense lawyer, a written verdict detailing the charges on which Shafik has been found guilty must be produced within 30 days, or the case will be retried.
“I am astonished,” defense lawyer Naguib Gabriel told Compass. The defense had expected Shafik to be found innocent after Egypt’s top forensic expert, Dr. Ayman Soda, testified last month on the Christian’s behalf.
Soda had noted inconsistencies in Gayed’s claims that she escaped from the second story of Shafik’s shelter while bound hand and foot. The medical expert had also pointed out procedural failings on the part of the court doctor.
After listening to Soda’s testimony, the court’s top judge had reportedly commented, “This would mean everything [i.e., charges against Shafik] is a lie.”
Gayed had accused Shafik of raping her, but initial tests showed that she had not been violated sexually.
Defense lawyers believe that the guilty verdict was based on religious prejudice, stating that since the first hearing in September 2004, the court had shown a consistent pro-Islamic bias.
In direct violation of Egyptian law, which forbids minors to carry out any legal activity including conversion, the state prosecutor had ordered 17-year-old Gayed be taken to the Islamic center at Al-Azhar to convert officially to Islam. The court also failed to return Gayed to her Christian family.
Shafik agreed that the court’s decision was religiously motivated, saying, “Now we are guessing the [top] judge, he understood the whole time that I am innocent. But the other two with him, they are very Islamic, so they are thinking they want to put me in jail.”
The support of two of the three judges was necessary for the court to give a verdict.
Yesterday Shafik’s sister, a U.S. resident, faxed a letter to Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenoudah III, petitioning him to intervene in the case. Shenoudah heads the Coptic Orthodox Church, representing roughly half of Egypt’s 7 million Christians.
The message to Shenoudah outlined the case, including details about Gayed’s acceptance into Shafik’s Apaskhyron El-Kellini shelter for troubled women in September 2004. Her family placed her at the shelter after recovering her following a two-week absence, during which she had eloped with a young Muslim man. The day after her arrival, Gayed fled the home and went to a local coffee shop, where she screamed that the Christians “had tortured and beaten” her.
While the U.S. Embassy in Egypt declined to comment on the case, Shafik confirmed to Compass that he and his lawyer had conferred with embassy officials yesterday.
Although Shafik had requested that representatives from the embassy attend his court hearings over the past year, no U.S. official was ever present.
Shafik retains the legal right to appeal the court’s decision but has little hope that a second trial would be granted. Only with the consent of at least two of his original three judges would his appeal be heard by a new court.
“If I go to appeal now, they are not going to accept it,” Shafik told Compass. Since his appeal must be made in person, he would risk immediate arrest. “If they are not going to accept it, then they are going to take me right away to the jail.”
Yet even if Shafik’s appeal were accepted, defense lawyers have little confidence that he would be granted bail. “By the time the court would see his case, I am afraid his time in prison may be finished,” Gabriel told Compass.
“Shafik could suffer from a heart attack,” Gabriel added, expressing fear that time in prison could mean abuse and possibly death for his 58-year-old client. During Shafik’s first arrest in September 2004, police refused him access to his heart medication for more than 48 hours.
Even more dangerous than police abuse is the possibility of ill-treatment at the hands of fellow prisoners.
“Maybe they are not going to hurt me,” Shafik said, referring to the police. “But they are going to let the criminals hurt me. Especially when they tell [criminals] that Shafik is preaching the Bible, and he takes Muslim girls to Christianity. That is going to make them crazy.”
When heart problems forced Shafik to retire from his Texas appliance business more than five years ago, he returned to Egypt to volunteer his time helping homeless children.
After refocusing his work to support young Christian women, whom he said were “being pressured to change their religion” to Islam, he never expected that his efforts could land him in jail.
“I’m planning to find some way to keep the houses open,” Shafik told Compass, referring to two shelters which he runs for children ages 2 through 17. “I live day by day, and I pray God will help me to know what he wants me to do.”