Egyptian Police Arrest, Harass Local Christians

Barbara G. Baker | Compass News Service | Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Egyptian Police Arrest, Harass Local Christians

ISTANBUL, October 15 (Compass) -- A letter smuggled out of Cairo's Mazraa Tora prison last month confirmed that an Egyptian convert to Christianity who disappeared five months ago has been imprisoned on criminal charges.

In a handwritten letter obtained by Compass last week, Hisham Samir Abdel Latif Ibrahim, 26, confirmed that he had been arrested in early May by Egyptian security police.  According to the letter written on September 17 to a Coptic Christian cleric, Ibrahim has been accused of falsifying his identity papers and reviling Islam.

"I was told that a man called Adel had informed them about me," Ibrahim wrote. He stated he had been interrogated daily by SSI officers, who named a person they claimed had issued new Christian identity papers for him.

Born in Alexandria into a Muslim family, Ibrahim is believed to have obtained Christian I.D. papers on the basis of a newly issued birth certificate identifying him as Milad Mahrous Habib Agayby. Egyptian Muslims are forbidden by law to change their religious identity, although open incentives are offered to encourage Christian citizens to convert to Islam.

According to acquaintances in Cairo, Ibrahim became a Christian in 1996 through listening to the Christian radio program "Yanabi El Sahara" (Fountains in the Desert).

Before his disappearance on May 7, Ibrahim had been living with Shafik Labeb Ishaq and his wife Violet, a Christian couple active in an evangelical Coptic Church in Cairo. Since March, the couple and their three daughters have been subjected to repeated harassment by both security police and local Muslim extremists.

An accountant for an Egyptian communications company, Ishaq confirmed that several times during March security police officers summoned him and his wife for interrogation, sometimes late at night or even at dawn. The police also came knocking at their door at odd hours of the night, always claiming to be searching for unknown individuals.

At the same time, the family received warning notes and dozens of obscene telephone calls, threatening to kidnap and rape their youngest daughter Sarah, 14. Repeated attempts were made by young Muslim men to convince Sarah she should run away, leave her faith and become a Muslim.

Then on April 8, fanatic Muslims in the neighborhood managed to kidnap Sarah for four days. Although her parents located her and forced the captors to return their daughter, a similar attempt was made on July 28.  Again on August 16, a veiled Muslim woman tried to force her way into the home where Sarah was staying.

To protect Sarah from being forcibly converted to Islam, Ishaq and his wife obtained travel documents and sent her on August 27 to England, where she remains in an undisclosed location until the rest of her family can leave Egypt to join her.

"Sarah was exposed to danger," the Ishaq family's pastor confirmed in a written statement from Cairo, "and even the lives of her family are also in danger."