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BISHOY ARMIYA

Beshoy5 

COUNTRY: Egypt

IMPRISONED SINCE: 4 December 2013

CHARGE: "Crimes" against national security

CASE: Security forces claimed that Bishoy was contributing to a “false image” that there is violence against Christians in Minya. Those familiar with Bishoy said his arrest had nothing to do with any reporting work but constituted retaliation for becoming a Christian

 

RECENT NEWS 

  

2 June 2015:  Bishoy Armiya (Boulos) regularly beaten and humiliated in prison.

 

ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 27, 2015 (Morning Star News
 
Imprisoned by Egyptian authorities on trumped-up charges for photographing Muslim attacks on Christians and then held illegally after his sentence was complete, Bishoy Armiya, also known as Boulous, is beaten several times a week, said attorney Karam Ghobriel.
 
Prison officials also have forcibly shaved Boulous’ head, a punishment and harassment technique normally reserved for violent felons, he said.
 
The physical abuse has continued in addition to Boulous’ illegal detention, Ghobriel said. Boulous remains in Tora Prison despite completion of a one-year sentence that should have ended in December for a charge of spreading false information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” of Egypt, he said.
 
Ghobriel said he thinks the beatings were ordered from outside the prison and are meant to do one thing – break Boulous’ spirit.
 
“They’re beating him to humiliate him, hoping he will change his mind, hoping he will go back to the way he was instead of insisting on Christianity,” he said.
 
In response to the beatings and a host of other legal irregularities, Ghobriel filed a formal complaint earlier this month with Hasham Barakat, Egypt’s attorney general. The attorney identified Boulous’ main assailant by name and called on Barakat to protect Hegazy’s “rights and freedoms.”
 
“The accused ended his sentence on the second of December 2014 by law, and he is now being kept in prison illegally,” the complaint read. “In addition to that, he is being continuously beaten and dragged [over prison floors] in Tora Prison by Officer Ahmed Fauzy.”
 
Ghobriel, who visited Boulous twice last week in prison, said the guards had beaten him recently. The attorney said he finds the treatment appalling.
 
“According to the law and the constitution, any accused person should be treated in a respectful way as a human, because the law does not tell prison workers to ‘beat them, drag them or torture them,’” he said.
 
Egyptian authorities arrested Boulous on Dec. 2, 2013, at a café at the Agricultural Association in Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, and accused him of working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite. The government claimed that Boulous was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Egypt.
 
The arrest took place during one of the worst waves of anti-Christian attacks in the history of the country. The spree of violence, documented at length by numerous journalists, included public kidnappings, assaults, destruction of property and attacks on several church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground. Much of the violence took place in Minya Province.
 
From the start, human rights activists said the charges against Boulous were without merit. In another official complaint, filed with Barakat’s office in March, 18 different human rights groups from Egypt and around the world stated that the charges were “clearly related to his religious conversion.”
 
“Mr. Boulous’ detention, treatment, and prosecution blatantly violate Egypt’s recently established constitution, which clearly states that ‘freedom of belief is absolute,’” their complaint read. “His case is also a violation of international agreements to which Egypt has been party for decades.”
 
Internal documents from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) obtained by Morning Star News show that during the time of his arrest, the MOI was employing at least one informant to follow Boulous, who was identified as a convert. The same documents showed that when officials arrested Boulous, they also arrested three female journalists. All of them, like Boulous, were documenting “sectarian attacks.”
 
Unlike Boulous, however, all the other reporters were questioned and then released.
 
Boulous, 31, left Islam when he was 16 years old. In 2002, among other instances of persecution, he was jailed and tortured by the Egyptian government’s internal police, known as the State Security Investigations Services (SSI).
 
On Aug. 2, 2007, when Boulous was 25 and he and his wife, also a convert from Islam, were expecting their first child, Boulous filed a lawsuit to force the Ministry of Interior to change the religious affiliation listed on his state-mandated national identification card from Muslim to Christian. Boulous said in 2007 that he filed the case mainly to protect his soon-to-be-born child from being forced to suffer the same persecution he experienced.
 
In response to the lawsuit, some Islamic leaders in Egypt called for Boulous’ death, and he suffered through numerous attacks, including having his home set on fire by a group of militant Muslims.
 
In 2009, two lawyers supported by a group of Islamists sued Boulous for allegedly defaming Islam after he filed his lawsuit, which became highly public and controversial. The blasphemy charge was based on his accusers’ assertion that the very act of leaving Islam cast the religion into ill repute. The lawsuit was never settled and, according to Ghobriel, passed the Egyptian statute of limitations and became inactive.
 
Human rights groups in Egypt and around the world have complained that Boulous’ current case has been riddled with legal irregularities. 
 
Six months after he was arrested, a judge on June 18, 2014 found Boulous guilty on three charges stemming from the 2013 arrest, sentenced him to five years in prison and levied a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) against him. Ghobriel immediately filed an appeal and petitioned for bail for Boulous, who remained imprisoned the whole time he was awaiting trial.
 
On July 20, 2014, a judge found in Boulous’ favor and ordered he be released on bail, but in the 24 hours that state prosecutors had to comply with the judge’s order, the SSI took Boulous into custody to be interrogated in Cairo for the 2009 charges.
 
On Dec. 28, while Boulous was in SSI custody, an appeals judge upheld the charge of spreading false information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and sentenced him to a year in prison. He dismissed the two other charges against him.
 
Because Boulous had already spent more than a year in prison waiting for his trial to take place and his appeal to be heard, he should have been immediately released at the conclusion of the appeal hearing, his attorney said. Instead, the SSI held him, officials said, because they were investigating the blasphemy charges filed against him – charges that the SSI itself revived. On Jan. 21, however, when the six-month time limit allowed under Egyptian criminal procedure to investigate the charges expired, the SSI still refused to release Boulous.
 
“The investigation into the charges finished a long time ago,” Ghobriel said. “And as his attorney, I am allowed by law to examine the charging documents before the case goes to court; however, the investigator in charge is refusing to let me see or copy the documents related to the blasphemy case.”
 
Safwat Samaan, chairman of Nation Without Borders and leading human rights activist in Egypt, said the persecution of Boulous shows the hypocrisy of the Egyptian government. Officials proclaim freedom in speeches and on paper, he said, while they deny rights in practice. The government speaks of religious freedom and equality while enforcing religious homogeneity upon the Egyptian people and stifling any religious dissent. 
 
“Article 64 from the 2014 Constitution guarantees freedom of belief, freedom to worship, and the right to build places of worship for the ‘Heavenly Religions,’” Samaan said. “This is a right provided by the law, and we cannot discuss Hegazy’s case away from the Egyptian Constitution that was voted on in January 2014.”
 
The Constitution is higher than the government, but several government departments stand against Boulous’s case, “as if its role is to protect a certain religion and lead the citizens into paradise, ‘Al Janna,’ or throw them into hell,” Samman said. “Religion is an issue of individual conscience, and everybody in Egypt has the right to choose what religion to believe or not to believe. Belief in God cannot be enforced or organized by law.”

SOURCE: Morning Star News

 


 22 December 2014:  U.S. Congressmen Call on Egyptian Government for release

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that nine members of the United States Congress today sent a letter to the Egyptian attorney general calling for the immediate release of Bishoy Armia Boulous, a Coptic Christian convert from Islam jailed by Egyptian authorities since December 3, 2013.   

The letter, led by Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida, states that Bishoy was jailed on charges "clearly related to his religious conversion" and that he has "reportedly been harassed and physically attacked on several occasions by officials of the Tora Prison in South Cairo." Sent to Attorney General Hisham Barakat and President el-Sisi, the letter goes on to say, "The dropping of all charges against Mr. Boulous and his swift release will help to demonstrate not only your administration's commitment to equal protection under the law...but that millions of men and women across Egypt need not fear government prosecution simply for choosing to change their religious beliefs."

Bishoy, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy, gained widespread domestic and international attention in 2007 when he became the first known Egyptian citizen to sue the Egyptian government for refusing to change the religious affiliation listed on his identification card from Muslim to Christian. Soon after the suit became public, several Islamic religious leaders called for Bishoy's death. He was subsequently detained and tortured by Egyptian authorities on several occasions while his wife and children were eventually forced to flee the country. In 2009, Bishoy was charged with blasphemy, or "defaming Islam," a charge that has since been renewed. Bishoy's next hearing is set to take place on December 28.

With only a few exceptions, all Egyptian citizens must have their religious affiliation listed on their identification card. This affiliation determines what laws apply to certain citizens and the enrollment of children in religious classes. While it is technically legal for any citizen to change this affiliation, in practice only citizens converting to Islam are issued new documentation.

The letter is also signed by Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona, co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus and one of Congress' strongest remaining advocates on behalf of persecuted religious minorities. 

SOURCE: International Christian Concern (ICC)  www.persecution.org

 


23 July 2014: Bischoy released on bail, but arrested again.

A noted convert in Egypt released on bail this week for the appeal of his disputed conviction for “inciting sectarian violence” was quickly imprisoned again on equally controversial charges from 2009 of “defaming Islam,” his attorney said.

 
Local security officials on Monday (July 21) turned Bishoy Armia Boulous, previously known as Mohammed Hegazy, over to the Ministry of Interior to face the blasphemy charges filed five years ago.
 
In 2009 two lawyers supported by a group of Islamists charged him with defaming Islam after he filed what became a very public lawsuit to force the Egyptian government’s Ministry of Interior to change the religious affiliation listed on his state-mandated national identification card from Muslim to Christian.
 
The blasphemy charges effectively amount to a charge of apostasy because his accusers said the very act of leaving Islam alone cast the religion into ill repute. Boulous, now 31, left Islam when he was 16 years old.
 
Karam Ghobriel, one of Boulous’ attorneys, told Morning Star News that the Ministry of Interior has charged Boulous with violating Article 98f, defaming a revealed religion, and violating Article 161, perverting a holy book or ridiculing a religious celebration. He has also been charged with two counts of violating Article 102, inciting public sedition.
 
The charges against Boulous were unexpected, Ghobriel said. On Tuesday (July 22), when he learned of the charges, Ghobriel was waiting for final confirmation that Boulous had been released from prison on appeal for the June 18 conviction for “inciting sectarian violence.”
 
“It’s very obvious because he’s a convert that they wanted to keep him in prison,” Ghobriel said.
 
On Dec. 4, 2013, security forces arrested Boulous at a cafe in Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, with a camera and four flash drives. Officials claimed Boulous was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based religious television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite, and was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Minya.
 
At the time of his arrest, Christians in Minya had suffered numerous, well-documented public kidnappings, assaults and destruction of property, including attacks on several church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground.
 
Whether Boulous was actually working for The Way TV is still in dispute.
 
In the June 18 conviction, a judge sentenced Boulous to five years in prison and levied a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) for what he called “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information.” Boulous’ attorneys immediately filed for the right to appeal, which was granted, with the first court hearing set for July 20.
 
Because the original judge in Boulous’ most recent case set no bail as required during an appeal, Ghobriel filed a complaint, and an appeals judge on Sunday (July 20) ordered that Boulous be released. In the 24 hours that prosecutors had to comply with the judge’s order, security officials from the Interior Ministry took Boulous into custody to be interrogated in Cairo.
 
“He is still being mistreated badly by the officers,” Ghobriel said, adding that his client had been beaten while in the custody of Interior Ministry security officials, formerly known as the State Security Investigation (SSI) unit. “They told me, ‘We’re going to show him’ because of his faith.”
 
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but is limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which can override national law. While it is easy and even encouraged for someone in Egypt to convert to Islam, it is impossible for a Muslim to legally convert to Christianity.
 
According to Egyptian law, every citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card. The card is necessary for anyone who wants to open a bank account, enroll children in school or start a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines many of the civil laws to which one is subject.
 
On Aug. 2, 2007, Boulous filed his lawsuit with the help of Mamdouh Nakhla, founder and lead counsel of the Kalema Center for Human Rights. He filed the case, Boulous said in 2007, mainly to protect his soon-to-be-born child from being forced to suffer the same persecution he experienced.
 
Within less than a week of filing the 2007 suit, Nakhla dropped out of the case due to death threats from numerous figures, including members of the SSI. Several well-known sheiks called for the death of Boulous, and he and his wife were forced into hiding.
 
As the case continued, Boulous’ home was set on fire, he was arrested, and several times SSI officials beat him while in custody. During this time in 2009, lawyers Mohammed Fathy Al-Shaheedy and Mohammad Adly Kadry filed the defamation charges against Boulous.
 
In April 2010, Boulous essentially lost his case when an appeals court suspended it indefinitely in order to wait for the country’s constitutional court to rule on a previous case dealing with religious identity. But before that case could be resolved, the 2011 revolution happened, a government was forced out in military-backed popular coup and two constitutions were written and voted on by referendum.
 
Boulous’ notoriety seemed to get lost in all the other issues Egypt was facing, and he came out of hiding and even participated in events at Tahrir Square during the 2011 Revolution. Ghobriel said that part of the reason he was surprised about the blasphemy suit against Boulous is that it is two years past the three-year statute of limitations for those types of cases.
 
The lawyer that prosecuted Boulous on charges of inciting sectarian strife, however, told Ghobriel that he considers Boulous a “runaway criminal.”
 
Ghobriel said that even in the face of everything that has happened to Boulous, “his faith is getting stronger, and he feels God is giving him strength.”
 
A hearing on the appeal of the conviction for “inciting sectarian violence” is scheduled for Nov. 11.

 

SOURCE: Morning Star News

 


 

20 June 2014: Bishoy sentenced to five years in prison

 

A judge in Egypt yesterday sentenced Bishoy Armia Boulous – formerly Mohammed Hegazy, the first Egyptian to try to legally change his religious identity on his official ID – to five years in prison, his attorney said.
 
The 31-year-old Christian received the prison term and a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) for what the judge called “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information” after documenting political unrest in Egypt brought on by numerous Muslim extremist attacks on Christians, attorney Wagdy Halfa said.
 
The exact section of the nation’s criminal code that Boulous allegedly violated was not released, but the judge in Minya Criminal Court stated that he was convicted of “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information on The Way TV, an evangelism channel, that disturbed the peace and public security.”
 
Halfa is awaiting the official court record of the verdict, expected within a month, which should delineate the exact article violated and reasoning for the sentence. It is likely Boulous was convicted for violating Article 176, or inciting sectarian violence, his attorney said. Boulous plans to appeal, but Halfa said it would likely be refused.
 
He maintained his client’s innocence.
 
“He did not commit a crime,” Halfa said. “Even if he did take some photos or videos of a protest, that is legal. Even if he was doing it for a newspaper, that is legal.”
 
Halfa added that the real reason Boulous was charged and sentenced was because he abandoned Islam and became a Christian.
 
“The officer who arrested him, when he found that he hadn’t committed a crime, made up things to keep him in prison so he could be sentenced,” he said.
 
On the morning of Dec. 4, 2013, at a cafe in the city of Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, security forces arrested Boulous with a camera and four flash drives. Officials claimed Boulous was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based religious television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite. Security forces claimed that Boulous was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Minya. At the time of his arrest, Christians in Minya had suffered numerous public kidnappings, assaults, and attacks on their property, including attacks on several churches that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground.
 
In August 2007, Boulous earned widespread fame – and rage from Islamists – when he decided to file a legal case to have his religion and name changed on his government-issued identification card. In a country where 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims polled three year later said the state should execute those who leave Islam, Boulous became an extremely controversial figure as his face appeared on newspapers and magazines across the country.
 
When he was arrested last year, human rights activists said they feared for his safety. Halfa confirmed that Boulous has been tortured and attacked in prison, but declined to give any details about his mistreatment or injuries.
 
“He told me he has been treated in an inhumane way in prison,” Halfa said.
 
Part of the charges against Boulous had to do with his status as a journalist. Egyptian media reported that he was investigated for gathering news for The Way TV.
 
In an on-air statement on his channel shortly after Boulous’ arrest, Joseph Nasrallah, head of The Way TV, said, “The Tarik [Way] Channel had nothing to do with Mohammed Hegazy, who is known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, in any way.” But Nasrallah gave seemingly contradictory statements to Morning Star News about Boulous, saying that he had been in contact with Boulous, and that Nasrallah had told him that he would consider hiring him but had not committed to doing so.
 
Boulous became a Christian in 1998. After his conversion, he was arrested several times by the former State Security Investigations Service (SSI). Boulous was tortured by SSI agents for three days during one of his stints in jail, he told a Compass Direct News reporter in 2010. Still, he refused to recant his faith in Christ.
 
Boulous said the main reason he filed the suit was to protect his children from the same persecution he suffered for becoming a Christian. After filing suit, he was forced into hiding when attacks and threats against his life became overwhelming. In one incident, for several days extremists surrounded a home where Boulous was no longer living. In another, a group of men broke into Boulous’ apartment, rifled through it and set it on fire while he was away.
 
According to Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights, Boulous’ wife, also a convert from Islam, and their two children are living in an undisclosed country in Europe.
 
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but is limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which can override national law. While it is easy and even encouraged for someone in Egypt to convert to Islam, it is impossible for a Muslim to legally convert to Christianity.
 
According to Egyptian law, every citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card. The card is necessary for anyone who wants to open a bank account, enroll children in school or start a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines many of the civil laws to which one is subject.
 
As the first convert in Egypt to file suit to change his legal religious identity, Boulous in January 2008 suffered a setback when a court ruled against him on the grounds that sharia forbids conversion away from Islam.
 
In April 2010, an appeals court suspended the case indefinitely while it waited for the country’s constitutional court to rule on a previous case dealing with religious identity. Before those cases could be resolved, the 2011 revolution happened and the constitution was rewritten. Following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government last July, another constitution was approved in a January referendum.

 

SOURCE: Morning Star News

http://morningstarnews.org
 



9 December 2013: Bishoy Armiya arrested

Egyptian authorities this week arrested a Christian who is arguably the nation’s most well-known convert from Islam and are investigating him for several activities, including allegedly inciting “sectarian strife.”Bishoy Armia Boulous, 31, formally known by his Muslim name, Mohammed Hegazy, was arrested Wednesday morning (Dec. 4) at a cafe in the city of Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, and is likely being tortured, sources said. Security forces said he had a camera and four flash drives when they arrested him and claimed he was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based religious television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite.

 
Security forces claimed that Boulous was contributing to a “false image” that there is violence against Christians in Minya. Those familiar with Boulous said his arrest had nothing to do with any reporting work but constituted retaliation for becoming a Christian.
 
“The police have made it seem like they are arresting him for different reasons other than him being a convert from Islam,” said Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights.
 
Boulous gained fame, and many would say infamy, across Egypt when he decided in August 2007 to file a legal case to have his religion and name changed on his government-issued identification card. In a country where 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims polled in 2010 said the state should execute those who leave Islam, Boulous became an extremely controversial figure, and his face was plastered on newspapers and magazines across the country.
 
According to a statement by the head of the Minya police to Egyptian media, Boulous is imprisoned pending an investigation into charges of inciting violence. Several Egyptian newspapers have reported that he is also being investigated for espionage. Advocacy organization United Copts has claimed he is being investigated for evangelism, but “proselytism” is not officially a crime in Egypt, although it is heavily frowned upon.
 
Human rights activists said they fear for Boulous’ safety.
 
“There is no doubt that he will be tortured,” said Nakhla, who represented Boulous through part of his identification case. “Those who have previously been in his place have been tortured – if not by the police, they are beaten by their fellow inmates.”
 
A possible indication of Boulous’ treatment in jail may be the statement of Lt. Amr Hassan, head of police in Minya, who told Egyptian media that reports of persecution against Copts in Minya are “not true.”
 
Minya, both the city and the province, since August alone has been the site of numerous attacks on Christians, church buildings and Christian-owned properties, all well-documented by journalists, domestic non-profit organizations and international human rights groups.
 
“The persecution is very obvious, and everybody’s looking at it,” said Joseph Nasrallah, head of The Way TV.
 
It was unclear why the Egyptian government claimed Boulous was working for The Way TV. In an on-air statement on his channel, Nasrallah said, “The Tarik [Way] Channel had nothing to do with Mohammed Hegazy, who is known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, in any way.”
 
But Nasrallah told Morning Star News that Boulous, who has worked as a journalist, approached The Way TV seeking employment. Nasrallah said he told Boulous he would consider hiring him but hadn’t done so.
 
“He offered to work, but I said to him, ‘Let me get back to you. I will consider that,’” he said.
 
Nasrallah said he was helping Boulous financially and has secured a lawyer to assist him.
 
“He was not working for The Way TV, but we will never forsake him,” he said.
 
Boulous was in Minya with a reporter, Nasrallah said, but he did not confirm whether the reporter was working for his television channel. It is possible that Boulous was in Minya collecting information on his own for “The Way TV” to prove his value to them. It is also possible that Boulous either misunderstood or misrepresented his relationship with “The Way TV” to Egyptian authorities. Egyptian authorities may also have misunderstood or could be purposely misleading the public about Boulous and his status as a reporter.
 
Boulous became a Christian in 1998. After his conversion he was arrested several times by the former State Security Investigations Service (SSI). Boulous was tortured by SSI agents for three days during one of his stints in jail, he told Compass Direct News in 2010. Still, he refused to recant his faith in Christ.
 
Boulous said the main reason he filed the suit was to protect his children from the same persecution he suffered for becoming a Christian. After filing suit, he was forced into hiding when threats against his life and attacks became overwhelming. In one incident, for several days extremists surrounded a home where Boulous was no longer living. In another, a group of men broke into Boulous’ apartment, rifled through it and set it on fire while he was away.
 
According to Nakhla, Boulous’ wife, also a convert from Islam, and their two children are living in an undisclosed country in Europe.
 
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which under the past two constitutions trumps national law. While it is easy and even encouraged for someone in Egypt to convert to Islam, it is impossible for a Muslim to legally convert to Christianity.
 
According to Egyptian law, every citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card. The card is necessary for anyone who wants to open a bank account, enroll children in school or start a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines many of the civil laws to which one is subject.
 
Boulous was the first convert in Egypt to file suit to change his legal religious identity. In January 2008, a court ruled against him on the grounds that sharia forbids conversion away from Islam.
 
“The court also stated that such conversion would constitute a disparagement of the official state religion and an enticement for other Muslims to convert,” according to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
 
In April 2010, an appeals court suspended the case indefinitely, while it waited for the country’s constitutional court to rule on a previous case dealing with religious identity. Before those cases could be resolved, the 2011 revolution happened and the constitution was rewritten. Following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in July, another constitutional revision is underway.

 

SOURCE: Morning Star News

http://morningstarnews.org