Egyptian convert arrested for ‘inciting sectarian strife’
An Egyptian Christian has been arrested, purportedly for his work with a US-based Arabic language Christian satellite television channel which is shown in Egypt, as well as across the Middle East, North Africa, America and Canada.
Bishoy Armeya was the first Egyptian Muslim convert to Christianity who then sought official recognition of that conversion from the Egyptian government. He changed his name from Mohamed Hegazy after converting to Christianity in 2008. Armeya was arrested on Dec. 4 in Nazlet El-Badraman village in Upper Egypt’s Minya governorate.
His arrest follows a spike in anti-Christian violence in the village after a suspected romantic relationship between a Muslim woman and Christian man came to light on Nov. 25 – something that locals would consider as a severe violation of the honour of the Muslim woman and eventually her family. One person was killed and nine were wounded during the ensuing violence.
The Minya region has also been the scene of many attacks on churches and Christians in recent months.
The state-run news agency MENA said Dec. 4 that a man it identified only as “Bishoy” had been arrested under suspicion of “spreading sectarianism”. MENA said the man works for a Coptic Christian broadcaster in the United States and is known for reporting “inaccurate images of oppression” of Egypt’s Copts.
Various news accounts in Egypt have reported that Armeya, 31, is being held on suspicion of a range of infractions, including spying; inciting sectarian strife; broadcasting false news; insulting Egypt; photographing security installations; proselytising; receiving foreign funds; impersonating a journalist; and conducting interviews with citizens.
A source in Cairo, whose name is being withheld by World Watch Monitor for personal security reasons, said Armeya had been reporting from Upper Egypt for Altareek (“The Way”) satellite television channel since June 30. The station, based in Duarte, California, started in 2005, claims on its website that it produces news, drama, talk, documentary and education programming that “presents Christian values and points to Christ”. The service claims to do so in a “politically and culturally sensitive” manner “because 80% are made in the region by local Christians and the rest are chosen by them specifically with their own people in mind”.
Attempts by World Watch Monitor to contact management at The Way have been unsuccessful.
Armeya created news headlines around the world five years ago after he lobbied to change his religion on his national identity card from Islam to Christianity.
An anonymous source who was detained in the same place as Armeya told World Watch Monitor that the Christian was detained in El Minya 1 Police station. The source said Armeya has been subjected to torture, but that has not been confirmed.
Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Cairo-based Kalema Center for Human Rights, told Mideast Christian News the allegations against Armeya are “fabricated,” and have been denied. If convicted, Armeya could face life in prison, said Nakhla, who was involved in part of Armeya’s conversion case.
Armeya is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 18.