Bishoy Natei Kamel was supposed to complete his military service this month. Instead, his family was called to collect his body three months earlier.
“When we reached the hospital that afternoon, we saw Bishoy’s body reposed like an angel,” said Natei Kamel, the father of the Members of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. More Christian. Bishoy’s father rejects the official conclusion that their son’s death was a “suicide.”
“His body bore signs of torture and extensive violence,” he said.
Bishoy Kamel’s violent death is the latest of five similar cases, stretching back almost a decade. Each of the deaths, the majority attributed to suicide, involved a Christian. Adding to the families’ grief, the authorities never properly investigated claims of religious bullying.
After graduating from a vocational school, 18-year-old Bishoy Kamel was drafted for 25 months of compulsory service to Egypt’s Central Security Forces.
On November 5, Bishoy’s father learned that his son had been incarcerated in his unit. Two days earlier, the now 21-year-old Bishoy had hit a Muslim fellow conscript, Mustafa, on the head, causing a wound requiring 10 stitches. Later, after Bishoy’s death, other conscripts told Natei that his son carried out the assault “after he had had enough of Mustafa’s bullying.”
“Over a period of time, Mustafa mocked and insulted Bishoy. He also picked on his Christian faith,” fellow soldiers shared as they came to pay their respects at Bishoy’s funeral. ”Bishoy stayed calm, which angered Mustafa even more. He goaded him further until Bishoy lost his nerve.”
Yet, according to Netei, all had seemed well after the case was adjourned following a plea for conciliation by Bishoy’s lawyer, Hani Ramsis.
On November 18, the martial court placed the two opponents in the same cell, an action which Ramsis identified as a clear violation of the law. He also noted that another inmate was moved that night into the tiny cell with both Mustafa and Bishoy.
On the morning of November 20, Natei Kamel received urgent calls to come to Cairo. Bishoy was dead.
At the unit’s hospital, Natei saw his son’s body, which he said bore marks of various injuries. “The top brass at the unit wanted us to immediately bury the body,” he said. “We were told that Bishoy hanged himself in the cell. We did not believe them.”
“Signs of torture could clearly be seen,” Netei said. “If someone would hang themselves, would they also injure their underarms? Would they beat their own back and stomach?” The lawyer also noted that it was improbable that could Bishoy have hanged himself in a small cell containing two other inmates.
Ramsis advised his clients to insist on an autopsy. “We have seen this same pattern in earlier cases,” he said, adding that Bishoy Natei’s death was the third of a Christian serving in Army or police service in 2015. Though there was no evidence collected, no fingerprints taken, no investigation, and nothing carried out of the cell, the authorities had already concluded the death was suicide.
Beyond the case of Bishoy Kamel, four out of five Christian conscripts that died under suspicious circumstances while service in their units since 2006 have been automatically classified as suicide.
Father of all comfort, our hearts go out to the family of Bishoy Kamel. Comfort them and give them wisdom and guidance in their quest for truth and justice on behalf of their son. We pray, too, for other Christians serving with the police and the army in Egypt that You would hedge them about in Your protection from harassment and bullying. Strengthen their faith that they might stand in the truth. When they are being mocked for their faith, grant them courage to stand in wisdom and authority from Christ who suffered scorn and ridicule on their behalf; still their hearts with confidence in their Savior that they might respond in wise and godly ways. Let Your light shine through them that others may see Christ in them and believe. In the name of Jesus, who reigns with a scepter of justice. Amen.