Hegazy case postponed, again

 By Magdy Samaan
First Published: January 22, 2008

Daily News 

A Cairo court on Tuesday postponed till Jan. 29 the final verdict on the case of Mohamed Hegazy, a Muslim who converted to Christianity.
Hegazy’s lawyer had requested a freeze on the case to complete legal procedures, but while the public attorney had agreed to the request, the 20 lawyers spearheading an apostasy case against Hegazy had refused the request, leading the court to adjourn the hearing till Jan. 29.

Hegazy was the first Egyptian to demand an administrative change acknowledging his conversion last August. Repeated death threats from religious extremists who consider him an apostate, had driven Hegazy to remain in hiding for the past four months, refusing to speak to the media, until he agreed to an exclusive interview with Daily News Egypt on Monday, the first since his escape from the public spotlight.
Hegazy reaffirmed his decision to continue the legal battle affirming his freedom of faith, and said that he refuses to go into exile. He also announced that his wife Christine, formerly Zeinab, will present a similar appeal demanding suitable changes to her national identification documents.
 

 
 Sheik Badri asked for Hegazi excusion
Why did you go into hiding in the past four months?

When the location of my residence became known, I had no option but to move in fear for my wife, who was in her final months of pregnancy at the time. Back then our neighbors in Old Cairo had set some of our possessions on fire during our absence. It was natural that we should completely disappear. I was also warned indirectly that security officials wanted me to either drop the case or leave the country, but I refused and said that I’ll fight for my rights.
I also felt that the press often twists and fabricates my words and treats me like a criminal accused.

When the location of my residence became known, I had no option but to move in fear for my wife, who was in her final months of pregnancy at the time. Back then our neighbors in Old Cairo had set some of our possessions on fire during our absence. It was natural that we should completely disappear. I was also warned indirectly that security officials wanted me to either drop the case or leave the country, but I refused and said that I’ll fight for my rights.
I also felt that the press often twists and fabricates my words and treats me like a criminal accused.

 

What have you been doing in the past few months?
I had to hide at home most of the time and only left the house if there was something very important to be taken care of. I’m not living a normal life ... I can’t work or move around freely since several fatwas were issued to kill me. All I asked for was a basic, natural right, but now I am being treated like an accused man, in hiding from the Islamists, or from society or from security.

 

Is the Church helping you?
No.

Tell us your reaction to what happened in the second hearing of Jan. 15 when the alliance of lawyers against you attacked your lawyers?
The mob was led by the Islamist lawyers. They don’t want anyone to side with me; they threatened to kill me and verbally abused and violated the two lawyers who volunteered to defend me. All this happened in front of the judge, who failed to abide by any law.
I don’t understand why 20 lawyers are volunteering to strip me of the right to convert. I’m a mature individual and I can make my own decisions.
There’s a double standard amongst people and the government.

 

Why did your  lawyers stop the case and demand a retrial?
Gamal Eid [head of HRInfo] said that there were a few incomplete procedures pending since Mamdouh Nakhla — my former lawyer who suddenly withdrew from the case before the appeal — which consequently led to the rejection of the appeal.
I must make an official request at the civil registry to change my religious affiliation on the ID card. Should the registry refuse, I would then file a complaint at the police station, and obtain a certificate from the church stating that I had converted to Christianity.

 

Have you not been able to obtain the necessary documents to move forward with the case until now?
My wife and I had a church wedding and did receive the necessary document proving our faith. But the problem is that the church will have to testify before the court as witnesses on my behalf, and you know how much pressure the church is under.

We heard you are now a father.
Yes, my daughter was born on Jan. 10. Her name is Mariam.

 

Have you issued a birth certificate for her, and what did you write as her religious affiliation?
Yes, I have issued a birth certificate for her, and she was recorded as Muslim since my religious affiliation is still Muslim on my  ID. What was written on her birth certificate is not the truth, it’s as if the government is encouraging us to lie.

Which organizations are giving you legal representation?
There is The Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the
Hisham Mubarak Law Center. The other human rights organizations are taking a back seat, they are not interested in freedom of faith issues. Unfortunately many of them are extremists and are incorporating their own biased views into such cases, abandoning objectivity.
At the same time they defend the Jihad organization and the Muslim Brotherhood, but abandon cases involving religious freedom or the persecution of Copts.

Some have accused you of seeking fame.

Only if you associate fame with death threats! What is this fame which prohibits me from moving around freely and has me constantly feeling threatened, ostracized by society, and the target of fatwas calling for my death?
By the way I have been accused of much more, such as being insane, or that I’ve been bribed by the church to covert to Christianity. My response is that all this does not justify the death threats and my inability to lead a normal life.

What if you lose the court case, will you leave the country?
I am sticking to my right to choose my faith and live in my own country. I was part of the Kefaya Movement for Change, and I love my country despite everything. I don’t want to leave it; I want to stay and watch it prosper and become a protector of freedom of faith. I will stay the course until the end.
The government is now facing a dilemma. It has signed international agreements protecting religious freedom, but at the same time Article 2 of the constitution asserts that the Islamic Sharia is the principal source of legislation. 
I cannot change the law which gives Islamists the right to challenge my right to convert to another religion.


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