ICC Note: A woman and her seven children were given a 15 year prison sentence for converting back to Christianity in Egypt, Fox News reports. Similar cases were common in the past but were not punished. However, the arrest is an early sign that religious freedom in Egypt is quickly deteriorating under the country’s Islamist-dominated government and the recently approved Islamic constitution.
By Benjamin Weinthal
01/16/2013 Egypt (Fox News) -The 15-year prison sentence given to a woman and her seven children by an Egyptian court for converting to Christianity is a sign of things to come, according to alarmed human rights advocates who say the nation's Islamist government is bad news for Christians in the North African country.
A criminal court in the central Egyptian city of Beni Suef meted out the shocking sentence last week, according to the Arabic-language Egyptian paper Al-Masry Al-Youm. Nadia Mohamed Ali, who was raised a Christian, converted to Islam when she married Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab Mustafa, a Muslim, 23 years ago. He later died, and his widow planned to convert her family back to Christianity in order to obtain an inheritance from her family. She sought the help of others in the registration office to process new identity cards between 2004 and 2006. When the conversion came to light under the new regime, Nadia, her children and even the clerks who processed the identity cards were all sentenced to prison.
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, said conversions like Nadia's have been common in the past, but said Egypt's new Sharia-based constitution "is a real disaster in terms of religion freedom.”
"The cases will increase in the future," Tadros said. "It will be much harder for people to return to Christianity."
The case is the latest example of the increasingly dire plight of the nation's roughly 7 million Christians, say human rights advocates.
"Now that Sharia law has become an integral part of Egypt's new constitution, Christians in that country are at greater risk than ever," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice. "This is another tragic case that underscores the growing problem of religious intolerance in the Muslim world. To impose a prison sentence for a family because of their Christian faith sadly reveals the true agenda of this new government: Egypt has no respect for international law or religious liberty.”