A Coptic Christian arrested for handing out copies of the Bible has had his detention extended for the second time and a new charge added to his case.
Ishaq Medhat was reportedly arrested whilst in possession of nine copies of the Bible at the Mall of Arabia in 6th of October City. Medhat, 35, is originally from Beni Obeid in Minya, and is a church custodian. His detention was extended for a second 15-day period on Monday.
According to Coptic activist and journalist Nader Shoukry, Medhat was initially charged with “inciting sectarian strife” and “harming national unity”, but latterly had a charge of “insulting religion” added to his case. However, Shoukry said that his police report makes no mention of causing insult.
“They use pre-trial detention as a punishment and there in no reason for his detention; his defence lawyers are calling for his release,” Shoukry said.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher on religious freedoms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), previously told Daily News Egypt that there is no law that makes the act of attempting to convert illegal. However, he said that “they use Article 98 of the penal code that criminalises the exploitation of religion for the purposes of inciting sectarian strife and harming national unity and social peace”.
Individuals convicted of violating Article 98 face a prison sentence of between six months and five years, or a fine.
Christians are believed to make up around 10% of Egypt’s population, and have long suffered marginalisation and discrimination at all levels of society.
Ibrahim authored a report earlier this year that found many local communities in Egypt resolve disputes, such as interreligious issues, informally through reconciliation sessions with community elders. This method, which is faster and cheaper than the legal process, usually leaves the minority group wronged and leads to further conflict.
Current Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II is seen as having brought the Coptic Church in Egypt close to the administration of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Conversely, some young Coptic activists still hold the government’s security forces accountable for the killing of 24 Christians in the Maspero protests of October 2011.
In a similar case in July, three young Coptic men were arrested on charges of contempt for religion and preaching Christianity, for distributing dates to fasting Muslims in Ramadan at the time when the fast was being broken. They were released on a bail of EGP 10,000 each, but it is understood that they are still facing charges
Most reported cases of individuals prosecuted on the charge of “insulting religion” are Christians and atheists. In May, Daily News Egypt reported on the case of Beshoy Armia, a convert to Christianity who has been incarcerated since 2013, most latterly for insulting Islam, in what his lawyer says is ongoing political and religious persecution.
The current charges are believed to be a legal complaint submitted by two lawyers who maintain that the manner in which Armia converted to Christianity from Islam was blasphemous and “insulting to religion”. Lawyer Karam Ghobrial has launched a public campaign to have Armia’s new name and religion reflected on his ID, after he was denied by court following his conversion.