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Egypt jails two Christian activists for “defaming Islam”

ICC Note

“The regime seems to have lost control; it is arresting and imprisoning human right activists and threatening journalists,”

September 27, 2007 Egypt (digital journal)-An Egyptian court has extended the jail term of two Christian human right activists who were arrested and imprisoned on charges of defaming Islam last month, a member of a Christian group said on Wednesday.

The human right activists, Adel Fawzy Faltas and Peter Ezzat, have been in jail since August 8 for defaming Islam, Wajih Yakub, a member of the Middle East Christians Association (MECA), told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

A state security court on September 20 extended their jail term for 15 more days, according to Yakub.

Faltas and Ezzat, who are members of the Canada-based association, have been accused by Egypt ‘s state security prosecutors of threatening social peace by propagating anti-Islamic material.

The material in question is a book entitled The Persecuted that the association compiled from Egyptian newspaper reports and court cases which involve what it perceives as persecution of Egypt ‘s Coptic Christian minority, Yakub explained.

Initially, they were also accused of converting a Muslim, named Mohamed Ahmed Hegazy, to Christianity. But this charge was later dropped due to lack of evidence, Yakub said.

Proselytizing to promote the Islamic faith is taken for granted in Egypt , though not enshrined in law. However, promoting any other religion is considered unacceptable. Conversions to other religions were not banned by law, Yakub maintained.

Egypt ‘s Christians estimate their number at about 15 million, out of a total population of 79 million. A census conducted last year did not include any detail of their percentage of the total population.

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The US State Department has criticized Egypt in its annual report on religious freedom around the world, which was released this month.

The report said respect for religious freedom in Egypt had declined. It cited as an example a court ruling this year that overruled a previous policy to provide a legal means for converts from Islam to Christianity to amend their civil records.

Egypt ‘s foreign minister, Ahmad Abul Ghait, slammed the report stressing the country’s sovereignty.

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Coptic associations based in Europe and North America have called for the immediate, unconditional release of both human rights activists, a statement released on MECA website said.

They pledged to pursue their campaign to “internationalize the Coptic question.” The campaigners have submitted a request to the UN on Thursday concerning the case of the two activists and the Coptic question as a whole, according to the statement.

Protests will be staged in several countries, including Egypt , to demand their release, Yakub said.

“The regime seems to have lost control; it is arresting and imprisoning human right activists and threatening journalists,” Yakub said.

The government has recently renewed its crackdown on dissent.

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