Friday December 6, 2013
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Story of Lisa*
There is a price to pay for faith in Egypt, land of the Nile. Lisa had experienced a supernatural encounter with Jesus. When her muslim family learned about her conversion they had locked her up in a so called upper room, a cousin of her was furious that she poured acid in her face (she lost an eye) ...but she was able to escape and be in a ICR safehouse, where she gets medical treatment and care.
As situations in Egypt changes rapidly, the future for believers such as Lisa is filled with uncertainty. Yet God continus to work in profound ways. Help believers like Lisa with Instant Response Fund!
*For security purposes, her real name is changed
Friday December 6, 2013
Mohammed Hegazy, now with new name, jailed for allegedly inciting 'sectarian strife.'
By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt, December 6, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Egyptian authorities this week arrested a Christian who is arguably the nation’s most well-known convert from Islam and are investigating him for several activities, including allegedly inciting “sectarian strife.”
Bishoy Armia Boulous, 31, formally known by his Muslim name, Mohammed Hegazy, was arrested Wednesday morning (Dec. 4) at a cafe in the city of Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, and is likely being tortured, sources said. Security forces said he had a camera and four flash drives when they arrested him and claimed he was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based religious television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite.
Security forces claimed that Boulous was contributing to a “false image” that there is violence against Christians in Minya. Those familiar with Boulous said his arrest had nothing to do with any reporting work but constituted retaliation for becoming a Christian.
“The police have made it seem like they are arresting him for different reasons other than him being a convert from Islam,” said Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights.
Boulous gained fame, and many would say infamy, across Egypt when he decided in August 2007 to file a legal case to have his religion and name changed on his government-issued identification card. In a country where 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims polled in 2010 said the state should execute those who leave Islam, Boulous became an extremely controversial figure, and his face was plastered on newspapers and magazines across the country.
According to a statement by the head of the Minya police to Egyptian media, Boulous is imprisoned pending an investigation into charges of inciting violence. Several Egyptian newspapers have reported that he is also being investigated for espionage. Advocacy organization United Copts has claimed he is being investigated for evangelism, but “proselytism” is not officially a crime in Egypt, although it is heavily frowned upon.
Human rights activists said they fear for Boulous’ safety.
“There is no doubt that he will be tortured,” said Nakhla, who represented Boulous through part of his identification case. “Those who have previously been in his place have been tortured – if not by the police, they are beaten by their fellow inmates.”
A possible indication of Boulous’ treatment in jail may be the statement of Lt. Amr Hassan, head of police in Minya, who told Egyptian media that reports of persecution against Copts in Minya are “not true.”
Minya, both the city and the province, since August alone has been the site of numerous attacks on Christians, church buildings and Christian-owned properties, all well-documented by journalists, domestic non-profit organizations and international human rights groups.
“The persecution is very obvious, and everybody’s looking at it,” said Joseph Nasrallah, head of The Way TV.
It was unclear why the Egyptian government claimed Boulous was working for The Way TV. In an on-air statement on his channel, Nasrallah said, “The Tarik [Way] Channel had nothing to do with Mohammed Hegazy, who is known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, in any way.”
But Nasrallah told Morning Star News that Boulous, who has worked as a journalist, approached The Way TV seeking employment. Nasrallah said he told Boulous he would consider hiring him but hadn’t done so.
“He offered to work, but I said to him, ‘Let me get back to you. I will consider that,’” he said.
Nasrallah said he was helping Boulous financially and has secured a lawyer to assist him.
“He was not working for The Way TV, but we will never forsake him,” he said.
Boulous was in Minya with a reporter, Nasrallah said, but he did not confirm whether the reporter was working for his television channel. It is possible that Boulous was in Minya collecting information on his own for “The Way TV” to prove his value to them. It is also possible that Boulous either misunderstood or misrepresented his relationship with “The Way TV” to Egyptian authorities. Egyptian authorities may also have misunderstood or could be purposely misleading the public about Boulous and his status as a reporter.
Boulous became a Christian in 1998. After his conversion he was arrested several times by the former State Security Investigations Service (SSI). Boulous was tortured by SSI agents for three days during one of his stints in jail, he told Compass Direct News in 2010. Still, he refused to recant his faith in Christ.
Boulous said the main reason he filed the suit was to protect his children from the same persecution he suffered for becoming a Christian. After filing suit, he was forced into hiding when threats against his life and attacks became overwhelming. In one incident, for several days extremists surrounded a home where Boulous was no longer living. In another, a group of men broke into Boulous’ apartment, rifled through it and set it on fire while he was away.
According to Nakhla, Boulous’ wife, also a convert from Islam, and their two children are living in an undisclosed country in Europe.
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which under the past two constitutions trumps national law. While it is easy and even encouraged for someone in Egypt to convert to Islam, it is impossible for a Muslim to legally convert to Christianity.
According to Egyptian law, every citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card. The card is necessary for anyone who wants to open a bank account, enroll children in school or start a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines many of the civil laws to which one is subject.
Boulous was the first convert in Egypt to file suit to change his legal religious identity. In January 2008, a court ruled against him on the grounds that sharia forbids conversion away from Islam.
“The court also stated that such conversion would constitute a disparagement of the official state religion and an enticement for other Muslims to convert,” according to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In April 2010, an appeals court suspended the case indefinitely, while it waited for the country’s constitutional court to rule on a previous case dealing with religious identity. Before those cases could be resolved, the 2011 revolution happened and the constitution was rewritten. Following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in July, another constitutional revision is underway.
Saturday November 30, 2013
Leverage could be lost, rights advocates say.
By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, November 30, 2013 (Morning Star News) – As Western powers prepare to ease economic sanctions against Iran in support of a new nuclear non-proliferation treaty, human rights activists say leverage for winning freedom for prisoners of faith may about to be lost.
A human rights advocate and researcher who monitors Iran for Christian Solidarity Worldwide said his colleagues in different human rights groups were concerned when they found out that there was no talk of human rights during negotiations with Iran, specifically about the release of prisoners of faith. In the quest to obtain some sort of agreement this month with the Iranians, they said, the pursuit of basic rights for Christians and other religious minorities was set aside.
“When negotiations [with the Iranians] take place, human rights has to be on the agenda,” said the advocate, whose name cannot be released because of his work in the region. “Otherwise, if you give all these concessions over to Iran, they have no motivation or reason to do anything about human rights.”
Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a legal group advocating on behalf of imprisoned U.S.-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, said not assuring his release at the non-proliferation accords was a “missed opportunity.”
“They didn’t use the opportunity and leverage they had right in front of them,” she said.
Abedini, a convert from Islam, is arguably the best known among Christians imprisoned for their faith in Iran. In July 2012, Abedini went to Iran to continue setting up an orphanage in the city of Rashat when the Islamic Revolutionary Guards detained him, placed him under house arrest at his parents’ home and forbade him from leaving the country. Two months later, the Revolutionary Guards returned, arrested Abedini and eventually transferred him to Evin Prison in Tehran.
Accused of taking part in the house church movement, he was found guilty of “undermining national security” and on Jan. 27 sentenced to eight years in prison. He lost an appeal of the sentence in August.
Abedini’s case has received more attention than usual since September, when Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, presented a letter to the Iranian delegation to the United Nations during an official state visit of recently elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The same week, U.S. President Barack Obama talked with Rouhani about Abedini during a brief but historic phone conversation.
For a brief moment, things looked hopeful for Abedini’s case, but this month things took a turn for the worse. Without giving any reason why, Iran on Nov. 3 moved Abedini to Rajaei-Shahr Prison in Karaj, according to the ACLJ, a facility about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Tehran known for its harsh conditions and violent inmates. Now, in addition to dealing with his deteriorating medical condition, he would now have to survive daily interaction with ruthless inmates.
“He is the only political prisoner in a cell with murders and rapists,” Barrans said.
Still, Abedini was hopeful in the lead-up to diplomatic meetings between the United States and Iran that her husband would be released as a good-will gesture. But by Sunday (Nov. 24), when the non-proliferation agreement was announced, there was no word that Abedini would be released. Abedini’s wife was devastated, according to Barrans, who is also a close friend of Naghmeh Abedini.
“She doesn’t know how to explain to her children that he is not coming home for Christmas again,” she said.
Part of the concern about Abedini’s situation is his health. He suffers from a stomach condition made worse by intensive interrogation sessions. According to members of his family, he has internal bleeding that is going untreated.
Poor medical care or denial of medical care has been a common issue over the past month for Christians locked up for their faith in Iranian prisons.
Another convert from Islam, Vahid Hakkani, is in critical condition due to improper medical care in prison, according to Mohabat News. The news service relayed reports that Hakkani had to be transferred to a hospital for surgery to correct internal bleeding, as he was losing as much 300 milliliters (10 ounces) of blood on the worst days.
“It’s well established that the regime doesn’t provide very effective medical care within the prison system, and there are many prisoners in Iran who are suffering from medical complaints,” said an advocate with human rights agency Middle East Concern (MEC) who requested anonymity.
Hakkani is serving a three-year, eight-month prison sentence after being found guilty of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security, according to MEC.
Hakkani and three others were arrested in Shiraz in February 2012, during an official crackdown on house churches. All four were found guilty of the charges last month but appealed their case. On Oct. 12, their appeal was rejected.
Human rights activists are still trying to get more information in the case of another Christian, Hossein Saketi Aramsari, also known as Stephen, who was charged with evangelism last week in Branch 6 of the Revolutionary Court. According to Mohabat News, Aramsari was detained on July 23 in Golestan, 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of Tehran.
Authorities moved Aramsari around many different jails and intelligence offices, including Ward 8 of the Rajaei-Shahr Prison, which is managed by the Revolutionary Guards. He is currently held in ward 7 of Karaj Central Detention House where he awaits trial, according to Mohabat News.
Amid this regression in religious rights in Iran, there was one bright spot. On Nov. 3, the same day Abedini was transferred to Rajaei-Shahr Prison, Mostafa Bordbar was released from Evin prison after a judge overturned a conviction against him on Oct. 30. Bordbar had been convicted of participating in an anti-security organization and of crimes against national security.
He had been arrested in December 2012 at a Christmas celebration.
Saturday November 30, 2013
Hindu extremists issued death threats, father says.
By Our New Delhi Correspondent
NEW DELHI, Nov. 29, 2013 (Morning Star News) – The father of a 7-year-old boy tortured and killed last week in India’s Rajasthan state said police are ignoring his suggestions on possible suspects – Hindu extremists who have long threatened to kill him.
“For the 10 years I have been a Christian, some local Hindu extremists have threatened to kill me and harm my family countless times – the last threat I received was earlier this month, before my son was killed,” Harish Gemethi told Morning Star News. “I have repeatedly mentioned the names of these people who constantly threatened to take my life and my family in connection to my son’s death to the police, but sadly they are not paying heed to my suggestions.”
Area police did not immediately responded to calls for comment.
The threats against Gemethi of the Believers Church in Gamidi village, Dungerpur District, began soon after Gemethi and 45 people put their faith in Christ after witnessing the miraculous healing of his older brother in 2003.
The body of his small son, Anugrag Gemethi, nicknamed Anmol, was found in a pond on Nov. 18 after he failed to return home from a friend’s house the previous day. His face was mutilated beyond recognition, there were burn marks on his stomach, his toes were chopped off and one hand and arm were deeply slashed, Gemethi said.
“My son’s face looked as if he had been burned up,” he said. “His eyes, nose and ears were gone, and there was nothing that supported his neck.”
An autopsy report denoted only drowning as the cause of death and, except for mention of “animal bites,” said the body was otherwise “normal” – contrary to the mutilation seen in a photograph of the body obtained by Morning Star News. Five witnesses at the hospital at the time of the post mortem told the doctor who did it that the body was far from normal and that there were severe marks of torture, but he ignored them, Gemethi said.
The Rev. P.S. Jose, diocesan secretary of the Believers Church in Rajasthan, stated in a letter to the chairman of the State Minority Commission that police have been slow to investigate. He urged the commission to arbitrate a case of severe brutality against Christians and bring justice to the bereaved family.
“His body was found in a small pond in Tadi Obri, where opposition against the Christians is strong,” Jose told Morning Star News. “The innocent child was killed in an inhumane and barbaric manner. We are deeply hurt by this incident, and it is a clear evidence of atrocity against minorities.”
Attorney Tehmina Arora of Alliance Defending Freedom-India said the murder shows how elusive religious freedom is in India.
“This is a tragic and brutal killing of a young child, seemingly to curb the free exercise of his and his parents’ religious beliefs,” she said. “In a nation where we have constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion, no one should be targeted, let alone murdered, for their faith. This is a sad and painful reminder of how far we have to travel before these fundamental rights become a reality.”
In the same village in September, Hindu extremists stopped the prayer meeting of Believers Church led by the Rev. James Dhilal and threatened to kill him if he continued doing so. Seven years ago in the same village, a Christian woman was murdered in a similar way, church leaders said.
Police have registered a First Information Report against unidentified assailants, but no arrests had been made at press time.
Anugrag never returned home after waving goodbye to his parents as he went to Sunday school at about 10 a.m. on Nov. 17, church leaders said, adding that he was an active Christian who loved Jesus.
After the Sunday worship service, he visited the Christian family of Mani Lal in Tadi Obri about one kilometer from his village and ate lunch with them.
“Mani Lal has five children who were Anugrag’s friends, and he sometimes stayed overnight at their home,” Gemethi said. “But he left their home after lunch after he told them that he needed to go to school the next day.”
Thinking the boy had stayed to play with his friends, Gemethi and his wife only began to worry when Anugrag did not return home that evening; they begin to search for him.
“I called up friends and relatives, and the people who last saw Anugrag were Mani Lal’s children when he crossed a small bridge that connect the two villages and disappeared thereafter,” Gemethi said.
The next day, Gemethi submitted a missing person report at Sadar Thana police station. The small Christian community, friends and relatives continued to search, finding his body floating in a pond at about 4:30 p.m. Though only 20 minutes away, police did not show up until 7 p.m., Gemethi said.
“He was a very special boy, always ready to go to church to worship Jesus, and he was also a good student,” his father said.