Hegazy, who’s been in prison since December 2, 2013, is the first Egyptian known to openly seek to change his ID card from Muslim to Christian. The reason, he said, was to save his soon-to-be-born child from the persecution that he’s had to endure since becoming a believer.
Hegazy is still in jail either for a sentence that concluded six months ago, or for a 2009 charge of “contempt” of Islam, for which the statute of limitation has likewise expired, claims his lawyer Karam Ghobrial. Having already been cleared of two of the three charges relating to several alleged “crimes,” one thing is clear—the National Security (the new name for the long-feared State Security Investigations Services, the SSI) is intent on not releasing him.
In August 2007, Hegazy, known by his Christian name Boulous (Paul), petitioned the government to change his religious affiliation from Muslim to Christian. Stating one’s religion is mandatory on every Egyptian’s government-issued ID card and, thus, is a gateway to one’s own civil existence in the country.
A follower of Christ since his conversion at 16, Hegazy was briefly jailed and tortured in 2002 by the SSI; after which he lived mainly in hiding; his wife and child were also forced into hiding with him.
After he was arrested again in December of 2013 while filming a protest in Minya, he was eventually sentenced to five years in prison on charges that included spreading false information to “cause harm or damage to public interest.”
The original five-year sentence was later reduced to one year in prison, which he’d already served by the time he was sentenced. Yet Hegazy is still in custody.
Several human rights groups, including US-based Members of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. More Solidarity, have filed objections to Hegazy’s drawn out legal mystery. According to Ghobrial, Hegazy has been denied access to a Bible or to receive communion since his incarceration, and his lawyer is the only person sporadically allowed to visit him.
Ghobrial has repeatedly attempted to press legal channels to release his client, including appealing to the Prosecutor General, but to no avail. He maintains that the prosecution failed to provide evidence to back up its charges. He says Hegazy is being denied release and is deliberately subjected to abuse because of his adamant disavowal of Islam.
While in jail, Hegazy has been beaten several times a week, and been placed in an execution room. He has reportedly been dragged across rough floors and had his head shaven, a treatment often used for sexual offenders or as a way to break one’s morale.
Egypt officially asserts respect for human dignity and freedom of belief, both in its new constitution, which was approved January 2014, and by virtue of its international legal agreements. However, due to long-standing prohibitions against apostasy, a Muslim who abandons Islam is considered to have committed a capital offence. According to a 2013 Pew Research poll, 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims favor the death penalty for anyone leaving Islam.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we lift up before Your presence today Hegazy and his family. You have given him a new heart and a new name, Boulous. And, he has the name of Christ written on his life in letters that are unseen but that have resulted in him walking the path of Christ’s suffering. We pray for Your comfort to rest upon him, and for Your Spirit to strengthen and preserve his faith. Protect his body from the beatings that he has sustained and give him courage to walk forth into each new day bearing witness to Your presence in him. Give his lawyer favor in the courts that justice may prevail, and that he might walk in freedom to spread Your gospel of salvation in ways that are both wise and bold. May Your church grow and thrive in Egypt, bringing Your Name the honor and glory that is due. In the Name of Jesus, our Rock of Refuge, Amen.