30-08-07 15:31
Egypt: Muslim authorities call for beheading of convert

Minister for Religion approves death penalty for defection from Islam - the ISHR appeals to President Mubarak to protect converts

Scheich Youssef al-Badri, Souad Saleh and Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, Minister for Religious Affairs: Conversion is to be equated with high treason, which is punishable by death

Cairo / Frankfurt am Main (30 August 2007) - The convert Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy and the lawyers representing him could at any time become the victims of an assassination, according to the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR). On 25 August Hegazy was interviewed on television with a sheikh from the Al-Azahr University, Youssef al-Badri. During the interview Al-Badri again called for Hegazy to receive the death penalty. The former dean of the Al-Azhar University College for Women, Souad Saleh, also demanded that the convert should be beheaded. Even the Egyptian Minister for Religious Affairs, Dr Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, took part in the escalating situation and publicly affirmed the legality of the death penalty for converts. Martin Lessenthin, Speaker of the Board of the ISHR, appeals to President Mubarak to " intervene without delay and guarantee the protection of the convert and his lawyers".

In the Arabic media two Al-Azhar religious academics, Sheikh Youssef al-Badri and Souad Saleh, demanded the death penalty for the convert Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy. The 25 year old journalist converted to Coptic Christianity four years ago and in early August 2007 wanted to have the religious status in his identity papers altered. Hegazy felt supported in his change of religion by the head Mufti of Egypt, Dr Ali Goma'a, who had expressed a relatively tolerant attitude towards converts. According to Goma'a, converts would be punished by God himself in the afterlife, but an earthly punishment would be improper, even in the name of the Koran.

These comments were strongly criticised by religious academics from the Al-Azhar University. In the newspaper al-Quds al-arabi, Saleh described Goma'a's "Fatwa" as worthless. Hegazy would not have left it at defection - rather, with his new commitment, he would have renounced and ridiculed Islam. This deserves death, said Saleh. In the same article the religious academics Sheikh Gad Mawli Ibrahim and Sheikh Youssef al-Badri deemed the interpretation of the Mufti to be invalid and lacking any substantial content. Through his new commitment to Christianity the convert would have declared war on Islam, stated al-Badri.

Minister joins with religious academics

In an interview with the newspaper Egypt Today, Egypt's Minister for Religious Affairs, Dr Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, insisted on the legality of the death penalty for converts. He said that with the announcement of their conversion they become a danger to the public order. According to Zakzouk, this is to be equated with high treason, which is punishable by death. Consequently, conversion has to be assigned the same punishment.

The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) appeals to the Egyptian Government to intervene in this discussion. The state must, in the opinion of the ISHR, guarantee every person the right to religious freedom (article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). The ISHR calls upon President Mubarak to speak out actively in favour of this right and to protect converts in Egypt from threats and violent assaults.

Egypt: Passport only with the "right" religion - 19-12-06 16:41
Pakistan: A Christian and father acquitted after four years on death row - 15-08-02 13:21
Maldives: Christians threatened with detention and torture on the island paradise - 24-07-02 17:45

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