May 29, 2015
EGYPT – Bishoy Boulous suffers ‘regular beatings’ in jail
Please pray now for our Egyptian brother in Christ, Bishoy Armia Boulous (pictured), who is reportedly being beaten several times a week by prison staff.
Bishoy’s jailers appear to be humiliating him to try to make him recant his faith. His lawyer, Karam Ghobriel, says Bishoy is being beaten several times a week in Tora Prison as well as being dragged across a concrete floor. His head has been shaved, a punishment normally reserved for violent criminals.
Bishoy, who was formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy, was detained after trying to document Christian persecution. His one-year sentence for ‘spreading false information’ intended to ‘harm the public interest’ expired in December – but he remains in detention.
Bishoy is also awaiting trial for ‘blasphemy’ – a charge linked to his attempt to change the religious status on his ID card to Christian. His lawyer asserts that the time allotted for investigations into this charge has also elapsed. He has filed a formal complaint about Bishoy’s treatment and continued detention to Hasham Barakat, Egypt’s attorney general.
Please pray for Bishoy’s immediate release from jail and that all charges against him will be dropped. Pray that he will be allowed to live in peace, as a Christian, in Egypt. Ask the ‘Lord of peace himself’ to give him and his family ‘peace at all times and in every way’ (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
(Source: Morning Star News)
The lawyer for Egyptian Christian Bishoy Armia Boulous (formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy) has finally been allowed to meet with his client. Lawyer Karam Ghobrial visited Bishoy in Cairo’s Tora Prison last Monday after a month of being barred from seeing him. Karam says Bishoy is planning to appeal against his latest conviction in December, linked to his arrest in Minya in 2013 (Prayer Alert, December 9). Bishoy is also being held in connection with earlier ‘blasphemy’ charges relating to his attempt to change the religious status on his ID card. Pray for his release. (Source: World Watch Monitor)
EGYPT: Christian journalist wins partial appeal but remains in jail
Two of three charges have been dropped against Christian journalist Bishoy Armia Boulous, formerly known by his Muslim name Mohammed Hegazy. He remains in jail because of prior blasphemy charges.
On 28 December 2014 an appeals judge found Bishoy Armia Boulous (31) not guilty on a charge of spreading information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and not guilty on the closely related charge of spreading false news “bound to weaken Egypt’s prestige” or harm the “country’s national interests”. He had been arrested in December 2013 when covering the persecution of Christians in Upper Egypt.
However, Bishoy was found guilty of a charge that has not yet been specified, probably inciting sectarian strife, and was sentenced to one year in prison. Because he had spent more than a year in prison waiting for his trial and appeal, he should have been released at the conclusion of the 28 December hearing, but instead he was held without an opportunity to post bail because of blasphemy charges filed against him five years ago (see below).
Bishoy is well known in Egypt as the first citizen to attempt to change his legal religious identity from Muslim to Christian, in a case begun in 2007. Lawyers believe the state is punishing him for his conversion by holding him on charges past their statutory limit, and doing so without any possibility of bail. One of his lawyers, Karam Ghobriel, said there is no hope of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) releasing Bishoy any time soon: “There is no hope at all, because he is still in jail for the investigation of his blasphemy case.”
Bishoy told the lawyer that he has been tortured in jail and is being housed with violent criminals.
Bishoy was arrested in December 2013 in Minya in Upper Egypt (260 kilometres south of Cairo) where he had been documenting persecution of Christians in the region. He was charged with filming Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations in the Minya governate without permission. After being held for six months, in June 2014 Bishoy was sentenced to five years in prison for “illegally filming anti-Christian demonstrations”, which the judge described as “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information”, and was fined 500 Egyptian pounds (€59). He was also accused of “spreading false news and rumours”.
Karam Ghobriel petitioned for bail, and in July 2014 a judge ordered security officials to release Bishoy. However, in the 24 hours that prosecutors had to comply with the judge’s order, security officials from the MOI took Bishoy into custody to be interrogated in Cairo.
Initial appeal hearings
At an initial appeal hearing on 16 November in Minya, the judge failed to appear. At a hearing on 23 November (which Bishoy is pictured attending, left), Karam Ghobrail submitted his defence before the court, declaring that there was no proof that his client had broken any law, and that he had been arrested without legal authorisation. The prosecution claimed that Bishoy was circulating false statements that disturbed public security, but Karam Ghobrial said that no evidence had been produced to back up this accusation. Judge Ahmed Abdel Aziz el-Ghool said that he would announce his verdict at the final hearing on 28 December.
Several days after the 23 November hearing, Bishoy’s lawyer learned that on 1 December he had been arbitrarily detained in a solitary “execution” cell reserved for death penalty prisoners.
“[He was] detained inside the execution chamber in violation of the law, because he is in custody under investigation,” said Karam Ghobrial, describing it as a “malicious attempt to take revenge” against his client for his religious beliefs.
After one night in the death penalty cell, Bishoy said he would start a hunger strike if he were not removed. He was transferred the next day.
Karam Ghobriel and human rights activists have stated that the government was targeting Bishoy at the time of his arrest in December 2013. Internal documents of the MOI obtained by Morning Star News show that the MOI employs informants to follow converts from Islam. An informant was following Bishoy when he was arrested. Karam Ghobriel stated that when officials interrogated Bishoy, they already had a complete dossier on his religious life, including details of his conversion and baptism.
Officials said that Bishoy, who was arrested with a camera, four flash drives and a notebook, was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Minya. In fact, Christians in Minya did suffer well-documented violence in December 2013, including kidnappings, assaults, destruction of property and attacks on church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground.
Conversion and blasphemy charge
Bishoy left Islam for Christianity when he was 16. On 2 August 2007, he applied for legal Christian identity, when he filed what became a very public lawsuit to attempt to make the MOI change the religious affiliation listed on his national identification card from Muslim to Christian.
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but is limited by various interpretations of Sharia (Islamic law), which can override national law. It is easy for an Egyptian to convert to Islam, but impossible for a Muslim to convert legally to Christianity. Every citizen aged 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card, which is necessary to open a bank account, enrol children in school or start a business, among other activities.
Bishoy said he filed his lawsuit mainly to protect his soon-to-be-born child from suffering the same persecution he experienced as a convert. In less than a week of filing the 2007 suit, a human rights lawyer dropped out of the case due to death threats from numerous figures, including members of the State Security Intelligence (SSI). Several well-known sheikhs called for Bishoy’s death and he and his wife, also a convert from Islam, were forced into hiding. As the case continued, Bishoy’s home was set on fire, he was arrested and several times SSI officials beat him while in custody. His wife and children now live in Europe.
In 2009, two lawyers supported by a group of Islamists filed defamation charges against Bishoy. The charge of defaming Islam (“blasphemy”) was based on the accusation that the act of leaving Islam casts the religion into ill repute. In April 2010, an appeals court suspended Bishoy’s case indefinitely. Then came the 2011 revolution, followed by the ousting of an elected Islamist government, and two constitutions were written and voted on by referendum.
In July 2014 the Supreme State Security Prosecution revived the blasphemy case as a pretext for remanding Bishoy in custody, after the Minya court released him until his conviction appeal was completed.
(Morning Star News, World Watch Monitor)
ICC Note: An appeals hearing on December 28 cleared Egyptian convert Bishoy Armia Boulous, also known as Mohammed Hegazy, of two of three charges, but sentenced him to one year in prison on the third and unknown charge and he continues to be held for investigation of charges of blasphemy.
01/01/2015 Egypt (Christian Daily) A noted convert in Egypt who was sentenced to five years in prison for documenting attacks on Christians has won a partial victory on appeal, but he remains in jail because of prior blasphemy charges.
An appeals judge on Sunday (Dec. 28) found Bishoy Armia Boulous, 31, previously known as Mohammed Hegazy, not guilty on a charge of spreading information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and not guilty on the closely related charge of spreading false news “bound to weaken” Egypt’s “prestige” or harm the “country’s national interests.”
Boulous, however, was found guilty of an unidentified charge, likely that of inciting sectarian strife, and sentenced to one year in prison. The appeals judge did not identify the specific article of Egypt’s Criminal Code that Boulous was found guilty of violating, but according to the law he will do so in the official sentencing documents set to be issued in two weeks.
Because Boulous spent more that a year in prison waiting for his trial to take place and his appeal to be heard, he should have been released at the conclusion of Sunday’s hearing, but instead he was held without an opportunity to post bail because ofblasphemy charges filed against him five years ago by two Islamist lawyers.
Attorneys believe the state, in effect, has taken an active role in punishing Boulous for his conversion by holding him on charges past their statutory limit, and doing so without any possibility of bail.
Karam Ghobriel, one of Boulous’s attorneys, said there is “no hope” the Interior Ministry will release Boulous any time soon.
“There is no hope at all, because he is still in jail for the investigation of his blasphemy case, which on Jan. 22 will have been going on for six months, but they will find other reasons to keep him in jail for sure,” Ghobriel said. “After Jan. 22, we will know when this case is going to go to court.”
Ghobriel filed a complaint about the denial of bail for Boulous in the blasphemy case. By comparison, the incendiary Muslim cleric Abo Islam, who was charged with blasphemy for ripping up and burning a Bible during a 2012 protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, was allowed to remain free during his trial and appeal. Islam was eventually sentenced to five years in prison. He is the only Muslim in Egypt to be convicted of blaspheming Christianity.
The next hearing in the appeal of Egyptian Christian Bishoy Armia Boulos (formerly Mohammed Hegazy) is scheduled for December 28, when a verdict is expected. On November 23, his lawyers made a compelling defence against Bishoy’s five-year conviction for documenting religious persecution in Minya (Prayer Alert, November 14). After that hearing, Bishoy was held temporarily in solitary confinement in what has been described as an ‘execution cell’; he was later returned to Tora Prison, south Cairo. Please pray that Bishoy will be acquitted. (Source: Release contacts)
After spending several years in hiding, Bishoy’s wife and two children were able to leave the country for asylum in Germany. Bishoy, however, chose to remain in Egypt, knowing that if he left, he’d never be allowed back in his home country. His own experience in hiding and being constantly followed by police made him passionate for the rights of converts to Christianity. He spends his days documenting abuses against Egyptian Christians and advocating for fair treatment.
When he was arrested, Bishoy was in southern Egypt filming clashes that resulted after Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi was ousted from office in July 2013. Hundreds of Christians were attacked, some kidnapped and thousands of churches and Christian businesses throughout the country were looted and destroyed.
On the morning of Dec. 4, 2013, at a cafe in the city of Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, security forces arrested Boulous with a camera and four flash drives. Officials claimed Boulous 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 was violence against Christians in Minya. At the time of his arrest, Christians in Minya had suffered numerous public kidnappings, assaults, and attacks on their property, including attacks on several churches that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground…..The 31-year-old Christian received the prison term and a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds for what the judge called ‘disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information’ after documenting political unrest in Egypt brought on by numerous Muslim extremist attacks on Christians, his lawyer Wagdy Halfa said.
Halfa is awaiting the official court record of the verdict, and plans to plans to appeal. Whilst maintaining his client’s innocence he believes the appeal will likely be refused.
In August 2007, Boulous earned widespread fame – and rage from Islamists – when he decided 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 three year later said the state should execute those who leave Islam, Boulous became an extremely controversial figure as his face appeared on newspapers and magazines across the country.
When he was arrested last year, human rights activists said they feared for his safety. Halfa confirmed that Boulous has been tortured and attacked in prison, but declined to give any details about his mistreatment or injuries.
“He told me he has been treated in an inhumane way in prison,” Halfa said.
Part of the charges against Boulous had to do with his status as a journalist. Egyptian media reported that he was investigated for gathering news for The Way TV.
In an on-air statement on his channel shortly after Boulous’ arrest, Joseph Nasrallah, head of The Way TV, said, “The Tarik [Way] Channel had nothing to do with Mohammed Hegazy, who is known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, in any way.” But Nasrallah gave seemingly contradictory statements to Morning Star News about Boulous, saying that he had been in contact with Boulous, and that Nasrallah had told him that he would consider hiring him but had not committed to doing so.
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 a Compass Direct News reporter 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 attacks and threats against his life 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 Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights, 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 is limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which can override 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.
As the first convert in Egypt to file suit to change his legal religious identity, Boulous in January 2008 suffered a setback when a court ruled against him on the grounds that sharia forbids conversion away from Islam.
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 last July, another constitution was approved in a January referendum.