Egypt arrest Christian missionaries

Monday, October 27, 2003

CAIRO Egypt has launched a crackdown on Christian missionaries.

About two dozen Christians have been arrested by Egyptian police over the last week, Christian sources said. They said many of them were Muslims who recently converted to Christianity.

The Barnabas Fund, which seeks to support the Christian presence in the Islamic world, said the crackdown began on Oct. 21 when Christian activists were arrested in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. The group said the first of those arrested were two converts from Islam as part of a police investigation that began in Cairo and expanded to Alexandria.

Christians comprise about six percent of Egypt's population of more than 70 million, Middle East Newsline reported. Virtually all of the Christians are Copts, who do not engage in missionary activity.

"Local Christians fear the arrests will continue and many other converts from Islam, who have been living quietly as Christians may now be arrested in the next few days," the group said.

The detained Christians were charged with falsifying their identity cards. The group said the charges apparently stemmed from the changes of names undergone by the new Christians.

"Whilst Egypt has no law against apostasy from Islam, in practice converts are actively punished by the police in this 90 percent Muslim country," the group said. "It is impossible for a Muslim who converts to Christianity to change their name to a Christian one at all. Thus they will always be regarded as Muslims in the eyes of the law."

Barnabas, with offices in Australia, Britain and New Zealand, said some of the Christian detainees have been tortured. The Egyptian government has not responded.

The group said Christian converts have been held in prison for long periods under Egypt's emergency regulations. The goal is for the Christians to recant their new faith.

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