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Compass – With an arrest warrant hanging over his head, Coptic Christian Shafik Saleh Shafik has gone into hiding in Egypt while his lawyers pursue an appeal over a controversial conviction of illicitly holding a minor at his shelter for young women. Spearheading appeal efforts, defense lawyer Ramses Raouf el-Nagar plans to challenge the ruling this week on grounds of court corruption, misapplication of the law and failure to justify the verdict.

“None of the accusations in this case actually dealt with the reality of the situation,” El-Nagar told Compass. “It was a weird verdict.”

Shafik, who holds dual U.S./Egyptian citizenship, was sentenced to one year in prison with hard labor last month for holding a 17-year-old girl at his Cairo shelter for troubled women “without the permission of the authorized guardians,” though her parents had given him custody. (See Compass Direct, “ Egypt Slaps Jail Term on U.S. Citizen,” October 26.)

Additionally, the verdict claimed that he possessed a “wooden cane without any professional necessity” and “tortured her physically.” It also claimed that Shafik beat Magda Refaat Gayed to “force her repentance and to convince her not to embrace the Islamic faith.”

Shafik must pay all legal fees accrued during the 13-month trial.

A warrant for the Christian’s arrest was issued on October 20, the same day that his sentence was delivered verbally by Abdallah Abu-Hashem, head judge of Cairo ’s Abbassiya Criminal Court No. 15. But the handwritten verdict detailing charges against Shafik was not produced until November 13, almost one month later.

In the verdict, judges Abu-Hashem, Sa’ad Sayed Megahed and Nabil Abdel Hak Mohamed decided to discount Shafik’s testimony because he was “just trying to avoid the punishment for his crime.”

The verdict failed to respond to evidence that Gayed’s Christian parents had signed over custody of their daughter to Shafik in September 2004, after police recovered her from an Islamist group. The 17-year-old had fled her family two weeks earlier and was reportedly living with Sheik Shabaan, the Muslim religious leader of a local Islamist group, learning Muslim rituals in hopes of converting and marrying a Muslim young man.

“I was actually obliged to keep the girl, because I signed a paper promising her family that I would keep her,” Shafik commented.

The court’s decision also ignored the opinion of Egypt ’s top forensic expert, Dr. Ayman Soda, who testified in September that Gayed could not have balanced on the balcony ledge of the Apaskhyron El-Kellini shelter and jumped from a height of 11 feet with her hands and feet chained as the court doctor had said.

Prosecution witnesses testified to seeing the bound girl enter a local coffee shop, screaming that Shafik had beaten and raped her only a day after she arrived at the shelter, but no eyewitnesses could confirm Gayed’s claims.

Initial tests showed that the young woman had not been violated sexually.

El-Nagar was quick to take issue with contradictions between the initial medical report and a second report conducted 48 hours after the incident. “The second report states that she was still chained. How did they examine her the first time if they never removed the chains?”

The lawyer also claimed that it was a misapplication of the law to charge Shafik with possession of weapons. “By definition, a weapon is a knife, or even a hammer is, if a person does not need it for their profession. [But] in this case a wooden stick has nothing to do with this law.”

A prominent speaker and writer on the issue of Coptic Christian rights, Shafik fears that authorities have used his case as a pretext to prevent him from attending human rights conferences and speaking engagements.

Never one to miss an opportunity to highlight the difficulties facing Copts in Egypt , the activist said, “In my case people want to know what has happened to me. But I want them to know why this is happening to me.”

At an October conference on freedom of belief sponsored by the National Council for Human Rights, Shafik spoke against systematic efforts by radical Muslims to kidnap and convert Christian girls. Many of the Christian young women at his shelter were brought there after their families recovered them from Muslim groups determined to spread Islam by abducting and converting them.

“When I took the case, I never thought about it as a religious case,” lawyer El-Nagar commented. “I thought it was about custody.”

The case quickly took on religious overtones, with the court initially ordering police to illegally transport the underage Gayed to Al-Azhar Islamic Center to officially convert to Islam, and several witnesses threatening to kill Shafik if the court found him innocent.

Later in the trial, the court repeatedly ordered Gayed to appear at the hearings and be returned to her family, but police refused to cooperate. The girl is reportedly still living with an Islamic group in Cairo …[Go To Full Story]