It was on July 28, 2012, that Bishoy Kameel Kamel Garas, 28, was unable to reach his friend, Nathan, over the phone. Something so innocent and nondramatic worried Bishoy, as Nathan always answered his calls.
Later that day, Bishoy learned why his friend was ignoring him. A fake Facebook account made under his name and featuring his photo had been sending insults to Nathan, along with many others.
Bishoy Garas is from Tima, Egypt, where he is a teacher as well as a minority Christian.
Upon seeing the Facebook account under his name, Bishoy immediately posted on his real social media outlets to warn his friends and others of the impersonator. Bishoy also contacted the internet police to report the fake account and request an investigation.
The next day, July 29, Bishoy was called into the police station at Tima, presumably to discuss what he had reported. Upon his arrival, Bishoy met with the chief detective and another bearded man. That man was Sheikh Mohamed Safwat Tammam, a Muslim from Salamon village in Tima. He had filed a formal complaint against Bishoy.
Despite the day-old report to the internet police, the warnings on Bishoy’s real Facebook page, and the full trust of the police chief, Mohamed insisted on pressing charges against Bishoy for insulting his sister, the government and Islam.
Bishoy was taken to face the prosecution in Tima the very next day. Having also seen the complaint and the warnings, the prosecutor was convinced of Bishoy’s innocence, but caved to the pressure of the angry protesters who had gathered outside the court. On the prosecutor’s orders, Bishoy was remanded and held in custody.
On July 31, 2012, Bishoy’s father discovered who had created the fake account. Michael Atif Naeem had admitted to Nathan and another of Bishoy’s friends of his wrongdoing. The two friends recorded his confession as evidence for the court.
When Bishoy’s father, Kameel Kamel Garas, brought the new evidence to the police station in Tima, he discovered a grave and disconcerting truth. The police chief, having heard the confession, expressed his absolute indifference as to which man was put in jail, since both were Christians and therefore interchangeable in the eyes of the common court and people.
The next day, August 1, the prosecutor in Bishoy’s case renewed his imprisonment for an additional 15 days, after the evidence of Michael’s confession was shown in the court.
The following weeks were a blur of canceled hearings, angry protesters and renewed imprisonments as the prosecution faced unfailing evidence proving Bishoy’s innocence.
By September 18, 2012, the Sohag Misdemeanor Court had sentenced Bishoy to six years in prison for blasphemy and defamation of President Morsi, the plaintiff and the prophet Mohammad.
At an appeal hearing on September 27, the judge paid little attention to the evidence of the defense and confirmed the previous verdict, satisfying the cries of the angry Muslim mob outside.
As Bishoy headed to an unjust imprisonment, his family began receiving regular, descriptive threats from protesters and angry Salafis.
Kameel was forced to travel to work under cover. Bishoy’s youngest sister left her schooling for a month for fear of being kidnapped. Bishoy was a target for persecution in Sohag prison.
“We were in a state of fear and terror,” Sana, Bishoy’s mother, told ICC. “Our lives were in danger every day.”
On April 4, 2016, Bishoy was acquitted and declared innocent of contempt of Islam and other charges from 2012, having served a little over half his sentence.
Though nothing can undo the injustice done to Bishoy and the Garas family, their great trust in God’s will has carried them through this difficult time.
“We thank God so much for standing with Bishoy, protecting him and acquitting him,” his mother told ICC.
During his imprisonment in New Valley prison, Bishoy explained how he spent his time meditating on the Word and God and learning how to trust Him and His will, regardless of what was just or unjust.
“[My imprisonment] was the will of God, and we have to accept God’s will. Our view is limited, but God’s [view] is unlimited,” he explained.
Bishoy’s release is, indeed, a celebration and victory, but the real victory is in his testimony of God’s sovereignty over all things. In the midst of trial and injustice, the Lord has a plan for those faithful unto Him.
Bishoy, though scarred by his imprisonment, has attained more crowns of glory for the true God of Egypt and the true God of the world.