Egyptian Family Weathers the Storm of Blasphemy
By Claire Evans
03/15/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A blasphemy charge changes everything.
“We didn’t feel safe anymore, I was scared for my sons, you can feel that all the people around you want to kill you or throw you out of the village,” recalled Maria. “It was a time in which we felt we are weakened and broken.”
Maria used to live in an Upper Egyptian village with her husband Abd, who worked in the church as a baker of communion bread. Life with their two children was simple, but their needs were met. Everything changed this past July, when Abd was arrested for insulting Islam over a deleted Facebook post. Despite his arrest, a mob formed to punish all of the village’s Christians, essentially driving Abd’s family out of their home. Maria said, “It was regarding that Abd is a servant in the church and he baked the sacrificial [bread], so that increased the anger toward him, and all of the Muslims knows Abd well.”
For five months, Abd sat in prison with no news about his future, unable to care for his family. Meanwhile, Maria struggled to find a lawyer willing to represent her husband. “Many lawyers refused to work on a case in which the accused is considered to have insulted the Prophet Mohamed,” she shared. “It is an unwise idea to ask a Christian lawyer to work on the case. It doesn’t make sense that Christian lawyer work for a Christian accused on a case of insulting the Prophet!”
Eventually, they found a lawyer and Abd’s legal defense could begin. His case was finally heard at the end of November, and although he was sentenced to three years in prison, his family still had hope. Local judges can face pressure from neighboring Islamic hardliners who want to prosecute a Christian to the full extent of the law. “Usually the judge gives the maximum penalty in the first degree to secure himself that he applied the law, knowing that the other judge in the second degree will reduce or set him free,” explained a Christian lawyer who observed the case.
Just one month later, however, their hopes were dashed when the appeal judge upheld Abd’s sentence. The family was crushed. “Abd was very sad; he didn’t expect that he would be jailed for something like that.”
Friends of the family were quick to express outrage. “What [else] is expected by a blasphemy law?” asked one friend. “It is a law meant to be tailored for Christians so anyone can accuse a Christian and no matter what the proof of innocence is, he will be imprisoned.”
Even though Islamic hardliners were pleased to see Abd’s conviction upheld, concern continued to build as Maria and the children could face potential repercussions. Although months have passed since the mob attack in her village, she continues to live elsewhere. Police keep a watchful eye on both of her homes— equally protecting and preventing her from returning.
“It is a law meant to be tailored for Christians so anyone can accuse a Christian and no matter what the proof of innocence is, he will be imprisoned.”
During Abd’s court proceedings, he was kept in a prison close enough for Maria to frequently visit. It was a comfort for both of them, to talk to each other. “He felt just like he was smashed, valueless, oppressed,” recalled Maria. “It was very horrible time for him when he was in the court and the opposite lawyer were screaming and shouted that ‘he must be jailed.’ The moments were painful for him.”
Maria’s faithful visits were more than just uplifting to Abd. They also provided him with regular access to clean clothes and food. But three months ago, his situation took another blow when the authorities transferred Abd to a prison over 600 kilometers away. The transportation cost of visiting Abd is expensive, and Maria has not yet made the trip to see her husband.
Phone calls are challenging to arrange. The family constantly worries about Abd’s welfare. “He is [now] imprisoned with extremists… all the prisoners around him are reading the Quran all the time.”
“He didn’t tell them that he is imprisoned on a case of contempt of religion. When they ask him about the type of his case, he tells them that he didn’t make any crime. It’s an unjust case.”
Despite all of these challenges, the family maintains hope. Given the amount of time served before his conviction, the family believes that he might be released this upcoming Christmas. It would be a gift long anticipated.
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