The identity card of Bishoy Boulos
An Egyptian Christian who reported attacks against churches is still behind bars weeks after other journalists were pardoned.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the release of two Al Jazeera journalists jailed after reporting unrest. They were on a list of 100 people pardoned ahead of the current UN summit in New York.
But one broadcaster who remains behind bars is Bishoy Boulos, a convert to Christianity who was imprisoned for reporting attacks against churches.
Bishoy Armia Boulos is also known by his former Muslim name, Mohamed Hegazy. He was arrested on December 4, 2013, in the Egyptian city of Minya.
The security service claimed he was working for The Way TV, a Coptic, Christian-owned, US-based religious television channel. They accused him of contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Minya.
The charge asserted that reporting the burnings of churches and attacks against Christians would in some way “harm the national interests of the state.”
Two related charges were dismissed on appeal. Bishoy should have been released in May. But then a second charge was levelled against him of blasphemy against Islam. And that case is still under investigation.
“Bishoy’s continued detention probably has more to do with his earlier conversion from Islam than to any alleged offence connected with reporting,” says Paul Robinson. Robinson is the Chief Executive of the UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.
“Release rejects the charge that reporting church burnings somehow created a ‘false image’ of the troubles facing Christians in Egypt,” he adds. “Minya has been the site of numerous well-documented attacks on Christians, church buildings and Christian-owned properties. A fact-finding visit by Release International in 2013 confirmed reports that scores of churches had been burned.”
According to Bishoy’s lawyer, his client has been badly beaten in Tora prison, as well as being dragged across a concrete floor. His head has been shaved, a punishment normally reserved for violent criminals.
The blasphemy charge for which he is awaiting trial is linked to his attempt to change his religious identity from Muslim to Christian on his official ID card. Bishoy has faced a long history of opposition, harassment and detention for asserting that right.
Born in 1982, Bishoy converted to Christianity in 1998. After his conversion he was arrested several times and tortured to try to make him recant his faith.
He received international media attention in 2007 as the first Egyptian Christian convert to file a lawsuit to try to change his religious status.
As a result, he was threatened with death. Islamic scholars demanded his execution and the Egyptian minister for religious endowments publicly affirmed the legality of executing Muslims who converted to Christianity.
Bishoy’s wife, Christine, also changed her faith. According to press reports, parents on both sides of the family threatened to kill the couple, who have been ostracized by other family members. They were forced into hiding with their daughter, Miriam.
Bishoy’s lawyer asserts that the time allotted for investigations into the “blasphemy” charge has now elapsed. He has filed a formal complaint with Egypt’s attorney general about his client’s treatment and continued detention.
“Bishoy’s case casts doubt on assurances of religious freedom in Egypt’s new constitution, and reflects the continuing vulnerability of Christians in Egypt – especially those from a Muslim background,” says Robinson.
Release has launched the campaign #everyright to call on the Egyptian government to make good its pledge of religious freedom for all, which is guaranteed in the constitution.
The Release campaign #everyright includes an online petition, which can be signed at releaseinternational.org
“The continued persecution of Bishoy Boulos reveals two things,” says Robinson. “The authorities are reluctant to face the truth about continuing attacks against Christians, and converts to Christianity remain at serious risk despite the country’s new constitution, which is supposed to protect religious freedom.
“Unless there is a clear mechanism to enforce the rights of the country’s Christian minority, those rights are likely to remain every bit as theoretical as they have been in the past,” he added.
See related article: Imprisonment, Torture in Egypt: The Case of a Christian Convert