|Human rights group
disputes U.S. First Lady's view of Egypt
Said to Be Escalating
22 March 1999--Egypt's repression of women and Christians continues to escalate despite the picture the government painted for the recent visit of First Lady Hillary Clinton, according to the human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC). Members of the Washington, D.C.-based group returned from a fact-finding trip to Egypt last week. Reliable reports claim that one out of every three Egyptian women have reported having been beaten by their husbands, ICC says. Children are equally likely to be abused. ICC discovered that an increasing number of young Christian women are prone to being abducted by Muslim men, raped and forced to convert to Islam. In such cases, Christian women have no legal recourse and fear for their own welfare should they protest. Women and men alike commonly lose custody of their children to their Muslim spouse after changing their religion from Muslim to Christian, ICC says. Nevertheless, the reverse rarely, if ever, has ever applied to a Christian who becomes a Muslim. Mr. Basam William Alaim was influenced to convert to Islam while undergoing therapy in a Muslim mental hospital known as Azhan, which is known for its effort throughout the Arab world to spread Islam. Despite the fact that he had a history of mental problems, once he converted to Islam he divorced his Christian wife and was successful in gaining custody of their two young children. Their eight-year-old boy Peter is now Mohammed. In another case, one Christian father has been unsuccessful in his attempt to appeal a court decision of January 1, 1998 that gave custody of his three children to his Muslim wife. The basis in all cases of child custody when one parent changes their religious faith can be summarized by the statement of the judge in this last case: "Islam is the greater and higher religion than any other," therefore the children should be raised as Muslims by a Muslim parent, irrespective of who is better qualified to meet the needs of the child. In another case, Amad, the Christian father of two young girls, died of natural causes. An Islamic group claimed that that Amad had converted to Islam before he died and that his children should be raised as Muslims. Based on the testimony of the Islamic group, the children were torn from their mother and given to a stranger to be raised as Muslims. According to Egyptian law, children of a Christian male who converts to Islam--whether the father dies or not--must be raised as Muslims. This does not apply to one who converts to Christianity. Under Egyptian law, it is illegal to make any repair, no matter how minor, to a church building without permission from the regional governor. ICC learned of three incidents in Upper Egypt that occurred since October that involved a total of seven Christians who were detained and tortured for having made repairs to a church building. In each of the three cases, those responsible for their detainment and torture were officers of a division within the Egyptian security force that deals exclusively with religious matters. The Egyptian government has denied that any such division exists. However, every Christian with whom the ICC team met claims that indeed such a "secret police" division does exist. ICC also learned that these secret police in particular are watchful for Muslim converts to Christianity and, when discovered, make life extremely miserable for them. In each of the three cases involving repairs to churches, the Christians expressed their desire to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal. One young man told ICC how he had been caught making minor repairs to a church and then taken to three different police stations over six days where he was told: "You are a criminal for having worked on a church building and therefore must be punished." Over a three day period he suffered beatings and was told that if he didn't accept the beatings he would be electrocuted. Today, he suffers a loss of hearing in one ear as a result of repeated slaps to the side of his head. He said that three guards took turns in three shifts to insult him and beat him. The young man says he was placed against a wall and told to raise his hands in the air for hours on end. His captors punched him and beat his legs with a rod. When he could no longer stand, they jumped on him with all their weight. In the other two incidents, it was reported that the victims were blindfolded and beaten with sticks, repeatedly punched in the stomach, and the hair from their chest and head was pulled. They were then forced to lie on the floor as the officers walked on them with their boots. If one of them said anything, they were again beaten. They were all told, "If you speak of this to anyone, we will find you and electrocute you." One of the victims was detained six times for as long as seven days. He is now unable to walk due to the repeated beatings to his legs. In each of the three cases, no charges were brought against the Christians, neither were they allowed access to family members or legal counsel. When asked if they would consider taking legal action against the officers, the Christians replied, "It would do no good; as it has happened to others, we would simply disappear." In meetings with Muslim converts to Christianity, ICC was informed that they are forced to live in secrecy. Once discovered by the security police, they are taken into police custody. Some reported having been tortured. One young convert reported having been cut and poisoned and later had to be smuggled from the village. Another convert was brutally beaten by her family to the point that she feared for her life. She managed to flee. More recently, however, the torture of converts has decreased and instead the method of harassment is constant intimidation of family members and denial of employment and education. Converts are subjected to mental torture by repeatedly being interrogated and insulted. In nearly every case, converts are forced to leave their towns and relocate to someplace where they are not known. Eventually, however, the security police find a way to locate them and once they do, they convince the owners of the house that they are living in to evict them or otherwise face actions against them. One convert reported having received threats from the security police after it was known that he was responsible for the conversion of several other Muslims. The security police will frequently use informants in the churches and in places of employment to try and learn more about the activities of the converts. Converts are also subjected to ongoing interrogations and threats in an attempt to persuade them to divulge information about other converts that might enable the authorities to make a case against them. As Mrs. Clinton met with leaders of the Egyptian government and even church leaders obliged to speak favorably of the government, she did not likely have the opportunity to learn the truth. She did not hear from the people themselves who are quite familiar with the fact that there is no justice for them--that there is no one inside the country left who can freely speak out against injustice without they themselves being subjected to the heavy hand of the government. ICC was told by one Egyptian human rights advocate, who wishes to remain anonymous, that one of the few who had spoken out against the repression of human rights of Christians will no longer do so. In December 1998, human rights advocate Hafez Abu Si'ada was arrested after publishing an article that was critical about the government's handling of the El-Kosheh incident, where reportedly several hundred Christians, including women and children, were rounded up and tortured in an attempt to extract information about the slaying of two Christian men. Hafez was arrested and detained in a tiny, unventilated cell for two days. His hair was shaved, he was denied food and water, and was subjected to threats and humiliation. He was charged with "accepting funds from abroad and disseminating false information abroad," but has since been released. While the charges against him have yet to be carried out, ICC was told that Hafez has said that he will no longer represent the Christians in connection with human rights abuses." International Christian Concern is urging the public to lodge a protest with their elected officials in Washington and the White House. Egypt must be persuaded to allow an independent, Christian human rights organization the right to established an office in Egypt to investigate and defend the rights of women and Christians, ICC says.
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