WASHINGTON D.C. (ANS) -- Egyptian police arrested a couple living in hiding since their conversion from Islam to Christianity, and detained 20 others after torturing several for names of more converts, according to information received from the U.S. Copts Association.
The string of arrests began with the apprehension of Yousef and Mariam Suliman by Alexandrian police on October 20. The Christian couple, along with their two daughters, Sarah and Marina, adopted new identities since their conversion to Christianity. After their arrest, the couple was transferred to Cairo; the children were allowed to stay with friends.
Attorneys report both husband and wife have been beaten and physically abused, and Mariam was sexually assaulted at the Al-Muski Police Department in Cairo.
Administrative officials who assisted the couple in securing new ID cards with Christian names were severely tortured by police. These officials were coerced into producing the names of 100 other converts who also obtained ID cards. This led to the immediate arrest of 20 other converts in Alexandria, as the government searches for others.
?It?s like a chain reaction,? said Christine Tadros, a policy advisor for the U.S. Copts Association. ?They arrest one and they torture them until they get someone else?s name,? she said. ?There is a fear they will hunt them down and they have.?
?Officially they are seeking another 24 of the 100, but two have been able to flee the country,? she added.
Egypt has the largest and most enduring Christian population in the Middle East, with a lineage dating to Mark?s preaching in A.D. 50. The Coptic Orthodox Church has close to 5 million members, and some estimate Christians may number as many as 15 million in Egypt, far above government statistics.
?There are no laws against apostasy like Saudi Arabia or Islam, but that is not what is practiced,? Tadros said. ?The official law they broke is the falsification of ID papers,? she said. ?You are not allowed to change from a Muslim name to a Christian name.?
Muslims who convert to Christianity face persecution on a variety of fronts, leading many to lead secret lives and try to find new identities. ?Some go into hiding and some try to leave the country or go into a different part of the country and change their names,? Tadros said. ?If they?re caught they face torture and abuse,? she said.
?It is important they change their ID because Muslim women can?t marry a Christian,? Tadros said. ?They want their children to be raised as Christians and to be able to marry Christians,? she said.
Non-converts, those simply born and raised in the historic Coptic Church, face other pressures. ?In Cairo, Copts live fairly peaceably,? Tadros said. ?But in upper Egypt, where there are stronger factions of Islamic extremism, if you look back over the last decade you find attacks against Christian homes, businesses and churches,? she said.
?There is a climate of discrimination against Copts in employment, hiring, and political representation,? Tadros said. ?Christians are not appointed to be mayors?even in cities where Christians make up a majority of the population,? she said. ?They are never governors, heads of police departments, or even deans of schools.?
?It is ironic that while the Egyptian constitution guarantees the individual?s freedom to change his or her religion, the Egyptian government repeatedly violates the constitution by harassing, torturing, raping, and holding converts indefinitely to pressure them to leave their new faith,? said Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association. ?The government does not legally recognize conversion from Islam to Christianity, and, as a result, converts lose all their rights, inheritance, and positions.?
The U.S. Copts Association will pressure the U.S. Congress to ensure that violations of human rights and freedom by the Egyptian government are exposed.
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