Egyptian Convert Released from Mental Hospital

Thursday, June 23, 2005

New Christian still suffers from security police torture.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, June 21 (Compass) -- Five months after he was forcibly committed to a mental hospital for converting from Islam to Christianity, Gasir Mohammed Mahmoud has been discharged from his locked psychiatric ward in Cairo and set free.

Mahmoud was released June 9 from Cairo’s El-Khanka Hospital for Mental and Neurological Health, where two police officers from his home city of Suez had institutionalized him last January.

Mahmoud, now 31, told Compass last week that the doctor who discharged him called his adoptive mother and asked her to come and collect him from the hospital.

“But she told me not to return to Suez,” Mahmoud said, warning him that he would face problems there, both from his father and the state security police.

Adopted as an infant, Mahmoud was raised by the Muslim couple, who were alarmed last December to learn that he had converted to Christianity two years earlier. But his father’s angry appeal to local Muslim sheikhs prompted them to issue death threats against the son for committing apostasy.

After his mother asked local state security police to protect her son from being killed, they subjected Mahmoud to an endless round of interrogations and arrests.

Initially, Mahmoud said, he was questioned “in a decent way” in front of a state security officer named Mohammed Amar. He was then transferred to another official who brought two Muslim sheikhs to talk with him, trying to convince him to return to Islam. After eight days’ detention, eating only food that other detainees shared with him, he was sent to the Suez Security Directorate for an investigation that lasted four days.

Then he was released. Because his only Bible had been destroyed, he stopped at an evangelical church on his way home to ask for another copy. “But they were afraid,” Mahmoud said, “and refused to give me a Bible.”

Shortly after he returned home, a messenger was sent to tell him to meet Mohammed Amar again. When the policeman asked why he had gone to the church again, Mahmoud told him he could not stop himself from going there.

“So he started to torture me, to pull off the nails of my toes,” Mahmoud said. “Now I’m still not able to wear shoes because of the pain.” This continued for 18 days, he said. The torture included stripping him naked and dousing him with ice-cold water over and over.

After 15 days at the Suez police station, he was brought before the Suez district attorney, facing charges from his father that his son had beaten him. “How could I do this,” Mahmoud said he asked the district attorney, “while I was being detained by the state security?”

So the district attorney ordered his release, instructing him to report to the local police, to be sure there were no other accusations against him. But four days later, a police lieutenant and commander took Mahmoud by police car to Cairo’s Abbasseya Hospital.

When this psychiatric institution refused to take him, they returned to Suez. Then on January 10, the police committed him to the El-Khanka Hospital, where a medical committee was formed to examine his case.

“Once they put me in a room without any clothes,” Mahmoud recalled. “They filled the room with water, to prevent me from sleeping.” During his confinement, he was beaten at times and given heavy doses of medication twice daily.

Mahmoud’s supervising physician, Dr. Nevine, had told him he would never be allowed to leave the hospital unless he came back to Islam. But a round of international publicity released in May focused considerable attention on the case, apparently convincing hospital authorities to discharge him.

Although Mahmoud’s mother reserved a hotel room for him in Cairo after his release, he has since found other lodging through Christian friends in the city.

Egyptian law forbids Muslims the right to change their official religious identity when they become Christians, although non-Muslims can freely convert to Islam and legally change their I.D. cards from Christian to Muslim.

Under the virtual impunity of emergency law regulations, officers of Egypt’s State Security Investigation regularly harass, interrogate and arrest Muslim citizens suspected to have converted to Christianity.