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Christians are still being persecuted in Egypt

We should stand in defence of a beleaguered minority

Compared to the countries surrounding it, religious freedom in Egypt may not seem too severe. On one side, neighbouring country Libya, with its splintered government, retains the death penalty for apostasy and forced a group of Christian converts to make public confessions online last year before detaining them in harsh conditions for alleged proselytism. Sudan, which borders Egypt to the south, also continues to persecute religious minorities as the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces rage against peaceful civilians in the ongoing civil war. They have intentionally destroyed churches and religious sites, often shooting worshippers down dead. While Egypt, which had a military coup d’etat in 2013, has faced relatively more stability and continues to uphold freedom of religion and belief on paper in its Constitution. 

Yet, a simple Facebook post about one’s religious beliefs can land you in prison indefinitely in Egypt. The situation for religious minorities in the country beloved for its ancient history and luxury resorts is on thin ice as the number of individuals held in detention facilities for peaceful religious expressions is on the rise. The story of two men who have been held in pre-trial detention for almost two and half years in Egypt sends a stark warning to the nearly 10 million Christians in the country and the nearly 15 million tourists who visit annually to be careful what they say or post on the internet about their faith.

Nour Girgis, a young man who led a Facebook group for Christian converts, was interrogated at a police station in November 2021 before he was immediately detained under accusations of harming national unity and connecting with international organisations. Using laws designed for terrorists, the national security forces justified his solitary confinement and extended his detention period over ten times, moving him from prison to prison and denying him the right to defend himself with a lawyer in court. 

Abdulbaqi Saeed, an asylum seeker who had to flee Yemen because he converted to Christianity, was also arrested in Egypt when officers entered his home without a warrant. He was a well-known evangelist who had assisted in the same Facebook group as Nour. It was verbally communicated to him that he was arrested for running a terrorism group and blaspheming against Islam, although his lawyer still waits for official charges to help defend him. His detention, which began in December 2021, has been extended over ten times as well, and he has been prevented from seeing his fifth son who was born during his early months of being held incommunicado from his family. As he shares a cell now with inmates from the Muslim Brotherhood, he fears deportation back to Yemen where it is almost inevitable that he will be tortured on account of his faith. 

While the national law of Egypt prohibits people accused of crimes from being continuously kept in pre-trial detention facilities, except in very limited circumstances, the authorities have blindly ignored the rules in order to silence and isolate people who don’t believe the tenets of the majority religion of the land. In fact, neither Nour nor Abdulbaqi have had formal charges communicated to them in a court setting, yet both have reported facing humiliating treatment and psychological abuse at the hands of the guards. Egyptian authorities are not only breaching international laws related to freedom of religion and expression but also the right to a fair trial and the rule of law.

It is well reported that the national terrorism laws in Egypt are increasingly being used in a blanket fashion to suppress the expression of people who hold views that are unpopular to the State. These vague laws act as a justification for the authorities to continue to detain people on rotation, sending a message to others whose opinions do not follow the official edict of the land that they too could be indefinitely locked up alone. 

As we advocate for the safe release of these men, we urge others who also have a voice to speak out against the blatant religious repression of peaceful minorities in Egypt. We must hold countries like Egypt to account since everyone deserves the right to live out their religious beliefs freely without repercussions.

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