Egyptian Christian Captured at Libyan Border

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Immigration to Canada Blocked While Police Search for Convert Wife

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, December 4 (Compass) -- A Coptic Christian secretly married to a woman convert from Islam was arrested for the second time last week while trying to leave Egypt for Canada.

Boulos Farid Rezek-Allah Awad, 31, was stopped at the Libyan border on November 25, the first day of the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan. He was detained by Egyptian border police for 12 hours, from mid afternoon until 3 a.m. the next morning. Once the authorities had confirmed the Coptic Christian’s identity, he was refused exit permission and then released.

Rezek-Allah returned to Cairo, only to be summoned to the security police’s Lazghouly headquarters after the holidays had concluded. There he was questioned and threatened by Hussein Gohar, a security police officer monitoring his case since he was first arrested nine months ago.

When Gohar again demanded to know the whereabouts of the Christian’s wife, Rezek-Allah told him that she had managed to leave the country ahead of him. Vowing that he would find her, the officer declared to Rezek-Allah, “I’ll bring her back and cut her into pieces in front of you.”

When he was released from questioning three days ago, police told Rezek-Allah he was blacklisted and would never be allowed to leave Egypt.

Rezek-Allah is accused of breaking Egyptian law by marrying a Muslim woman, Enas Yehya Abdel Aziz. Now 27, the woman had changed her name to Enas Badawi Yousef Guirguis after becoming a Christian three years ago.

Under Islamic law enforced in Egypt, a Christian man can only marry a Muslim woman if he agrees to embrace her faith. But in Rezek-Allah’s case, his wife had abandoned Islam and converted to Christianity. It remains illegal in Egypt for Muslims to change their legal religious status to Christian, since this “insults” Islam.

Since they were planning to immigrate to Canada, the two never lived together after their secret wedding last year.

“No one knew about our marriage,” Enas told Compass in May. “He still lived with his parents, and we were just waiting for my papers and medical test to come back from the embassy.”

But on February 26 of this year, just a few months before their anticipated departure, Rezek-Allah was arrested at home in the middle of the night by nine policemen. It was four days later before the family’s lawyer located him at the El-Shobra police station in Cairo.

Interrogators beat, insulted and hung the pharmacist by his arms, and accused him of evangelizing Muslims and falsifying legal documents. Under torture, he admitted that when he married his wife Enas, he knew she was a former Muslim who had secretly changed her identity.

But meanwhile, his wife had managed to disappear. Copies had been found of her Christian identity and marriage certificates, indicating that she had been baptized some three years earlier, and then married on May 22, 2002. But the police proved unable to track down Enas herself, as the actual “proof” in the case.

Since Rezek-Allah did not know his wife’s whereabouts, he was finally released on June 1 from Tora Prison, where he had been transferred in mid April.

For the next two months, Rezek-Allah was subjected to almost constant surveillance and harassment, leaving his family very tense and making it nearly impossible for him to contact anyone in touch with his wife.

Seeing no other solution, Rezek-Allah decided to fly to Canada to take his final pharmacy-license exams. He already had a valid immigration visa for Canada, granted when he passed his initial qualifying exam the previous year. But shortly after he boarded an Air Alitalia flight at the Cairo airport on August 11, security police came aboard and arrested him off the plane.

Following this, state security officials even threatened the pharmacist, saying that they would charge him with having killed his wife, in an attempt to force her to produce herself before the authorities and disprove the murder charges.

On October 19, the public prosecutor hearing Rezek-Allah’s case agreed to drop the charges against him if he agreed to the cancellation of his illegal marriage certificate. However, the court left Enas named as the “first accused” on charges of falsifying an official document and blaspheming against a heavenly religion.

Having lost 20 kilos during the ordeal of the past nine months, Rezek-Allah is scarcely recognizable from his photo I.D. issued before his arrest. “I really struggle with depression,” he said, which he believes is linked to his captors drugging him while he was in jail to induce confessions under questioning.

“If the Canadian authorities or anyone else asks why I am not being allowed to leave Egypt,” Rezek-Allah told Compass in Cairo three weeks ago, “the state security will give them three reasons. They will say I am a drug pusher, that I am guilty of falsifying documents, and that I was kidnapping Muslim girls to convert them to Christianity.”

The pharmacist’s Canadian immigration visa expires if he does not arrive in Canada by early April of next year.

Local Christians believe Rezek-Allah’s only hope to ever leave Egypt and be reunited with his wife is direct intervention by either President Hosni Mubarak or Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.