A Christian in prison
Youssef Sidhom

This is the sequel to an editorial of last June on an unprecedented blunder on the part of the Civil Affairs Authority.

The case concerned N.R.Y., a Christian-born Egyptian married to a Christian woman with whom he had a son and two daughters who all hold computerised ID cards and birth certificates issued by the Civil Affairs Authority in which they are cited as Christians born to a Christian father.

When N.R.Y., however, applied for a computer-issued ID card, he was stunned to receive one in which he was cited as Muslim. When he demanded a correction he was asked to submit a recently-issued birth certificate from his place of birth. N.R.Y.

promptly furnished one—his religion was cited in it as Christian—only to have the clerk deny the fact that N.R.Y. was Christian. N.R.Y. found himself accused by the authority of forging official papers, having allegedly converted to Islam. He directly denied the allegation and challenged the authority to prove it.

N.R.Y. was turned over to the prosecution, but he was confident of his acquittal. A series of hearings began; the officials at the local civil register were questioned but could furnish no proof that N.R.Y. had ever converted. Rather, the memoranda of the office of citizens service of the civil affairs authority involved obvious contradictions; one required investigation on the reason N.R.Y.’s data had disappeared, and another refered to the disappearance of data from the computer.

Instead of tracking whatever tampering had been done with the data, the investigation authority addressed the Fatwa Committee at al-Azhar, Cairo, to check N.R.Y.’s alleged conversion. A negative answer did not appear to satisfy the investigation; a second check was requested, and still the answer was negative: N.R.Y. had not converted.

A re-investigation was conducted. One of the persons questioned said that it was possible that N.R.Y. may have converted before the local Fatwa Committee instead of the central one in Cairo. The investigation committee pounced upon this piece of information as though it were the long-lost evidence of N.R.Y.’s conversion.

It appeared to forget that the alleged conversion was to have occurred in 1974, so should have been long ago relayed to the central committee in Cairo. This fact appeared to be lost upon the investigation, as was the person’s freedom to voluntarily choose to adhere to the Christian religion he was born into, married through, and had children accordingly. Throwing the legal principle of the innocence of a person until proved guilty to the wind, the prosecution charged N.R.Y. with forgery.

Seeing well-established legal principles totally ignored and a man being charged on the basis of a mere, flimsy, untenable suggestion, the dumbfounded N.R.Y. and his lawyer, having lost all confidence in the justice of the legal process, filed a complaint before the prosecutor-general. But this complaint was to no avail, and N.R.Y. was taken to court. His lawyer presented one clue after another casting doubt over the prosecution’s evidence and focusing on the contradictions in the witnesses’ testimonies—which was no difficult task since the case was initially a very weak one and should never have seen court in the first place. On 15 October, however, the court sentenced N.R.Y. to a six-month prison sentence.

It is easy to imagine the shock, pain, and indignity felt by N.R.Y. and his family as he was led to prison for no reason other than that he had adhered to his Christian faith. I doubt that any Muslim or Christian in Egypt can ever accept that.

N.R.Y.’s lawyer has contested the ruling, basing upon invalid deduction, incomplete reasoning, breaching the right of the defence, and violation of and incorrect application of the law. But it is with extreme bitterness that the lawyer admits that by the time the contest is seen N.R.Y. will have already served his prison term and paid for a crime he never committed.
So much for freedom of belief.

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