The first Egyptian Christian convert to seek a change of religion on his ID card declared last week that he has returned to Islam after having been imprisoned for over two-and-a-half years.
In 2007, Mohamed Hegazy, also known by his Christian name Bishoy, became the first Egyptian man to sue the government to officially change his religion of record from Islam to Christianity so that his child could be raised as a Christian and get married in a church.
In response, many radical Muslim leaders called for Hegazy to be killed as an apostate. In December 2013, Hegazy, who worked for a Coptic Christian television station, was arrested and accused of spreading a “false image” of persecution against Christians in Egypt. In June of 2014, Hegazy was sentenced to five years in prison.
Hegazy’s lawyer has argued that the charges against his client were in retaliation to his attempt in 2007 to publicly change his religion and that his arrest violates the law. In June, a judge ruled that Hegazy was to be released.
Morning Star News reports, however, that security forces detained Hegazy again on June 29 at a jail in Ain Shams in Cairo. Hegazy was transferred from prison to prison and kept hidden from his lawyer, Karam Ghobrial, for a number of days until he was finally released on July 23.
World Watch Monitor provides a detailed run-down of all the jails that Hegazy was transferred to in order to make it tough for Ghobrial to complete the bailout process.
Although he was released on July 23, Hegazy appeared in a video posted to YouTube last Friday in which he reportedly recited the Islamic statement of faith, known to Muslims as the Shahadah.
Hegazy apologized to his family members who have threatened to kill him over his conversion.
“I went through an experience with all its good and bad and all that is in it, but it was an experience,” Hegazy was quoted as saying in the video. “But praise be to God who strengthens me in Islam. I am not coming today to talk about specific things, because it was a personal thing between a person and God. But I am coming today because I hurt a lot of people in my family and my friends and caused them a lot of problems.”
Hegazy added that he wouldn’t address why he returned to Islam or speak to the media. However, some human rights activists believe that Hegazy was coerced in some manner to issue the statement.
“I want nothing from this video. I have no desires. I will not appear again in the media. I will not appear again publicly,” Hegazy was quoted as saying. “I say this out of my complete free will. I am under no pressures from anyone. I am not being held by any agency, nor am I under any pressure of any kind. And that’s it.”
Ghobrial told Morning Star News that he believes his client only recorded that confession of faith in return for his freedom.
Mohamed Hegazy(Photo: Reuters/Tara Todras-Whitehill)Mohamed Hegazy talks to his lawyer about his petition to change his religion from Islam to Christianity in Cairo August 7, 2007. Hegazy, a journalist and political activist, said in the petition filed to an administrative court on Saturday that he converted to Christianity four years ago but when he went to register his change of religion with the Interior Ministry the officials rejected his request.
“I personally think that he recorded this video to get out,” Ghobrial said.
Although Egypt’s Constitution calls for respect for freedom and human dignity, Hegazy’s story goes to show just how religious minorities in Egypt are treated like “second-class citizens.”
Even though Hegazy was originally arrested on claims that he was spreading “false images” of the oppression of religious minority, Hegazy’s own arrest, imprisonment and seemingly coerced conversion to Islam show that many actors within the Egyptian government are still beholden to radical ideologies that are responsible for apostasy and blasphemy laws.
Another Egyptian Chrisitan convert, the leader of the international human rights group One Free World International, the Rev. Majed el-Shafie, recently shared his story of how he was arrested, brutally tortured and sentenced to death for converting and helping the house church movement.
“They shaved my head, they put my head in freezing cold water and then into boiling hot water,” Shafie was quoted as saying. “They burned their cigarettes on me, they electrocuted me.
“They cut me and put salt in my wounds,” he added. “I still wake with nightmares about it, even now 20 years on.”
Open Doors USA ranks Egypt as the 22nd worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians.