Marian Girgis Makar, symbol of suffering Muslim converts, freed
By: Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- A 30-year old woman who became a symbol of suffering endured by Muslim converts to Christianity was freed after nearly two months of torture and interrogation, a human rights groups announced Thursday, Dec. 4.
The Barnabas Fund, which assists persecuted Christians in mainly Muslim nations, said police decided to free Marian Girgis Makar, the last to be released of 22 converts who were detained between Oct. 21 and Oct. 24.
Makar, "who was seriously abused whilst in custody, " was bailed for 1000 Egyptian pounds ($162)," reported the well informed Barnabas Fund, adding that "all of those released are now on bail, but charges against them still have not been formalized."
In a statement Wednesday, Dec. 3, her earlier released husband Yusef Samuel Makari, 42, said he and his wife were interrogated and beaten while in custody in Cairo. "The conditions were very bad...Sometimes we were badly treated and insulted in front of each other. She was tortured more than me," he said.
One convert, Mr. Issam Abdul Fathr, who was suffering from diabetes and at least one other medical condition, died recently while being transferred from a police station to hospital, according to church sources.
Makar's release came amid mounting international pressure and after Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) urged Egypt on Wednesday, Dec.3, to end the torture and interrogation of the young woman.
"Up until then it seemed that police were determined to make an example of (the) Christian convert from Islam [and]. they even employed a scholar from the Al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo to help them bring charges," for violating Islam, said The Barnabas Fund.
She and the other converts were originally arrested on charges of illegally changing names and religion on identity cards.
While a Christian who converts to Islam in Egypt can receive new ID papers with a new Muslim name within 24 hours, there is no reciprocal arrangement for a Muslim who converts to Christianity, say human rights groups .
This is "forcing many to make the alteration illegally," noted CSW, who has urged the government to change this policy.
Converts such as Mariam Girgis Makar and her husband, who have been living openly as Christians with their two young daughters, recently issued openly urged the government allow Muslims to be able to change their names to Christian ones.
They also would like "just treatment for Christians who once converted to Islam, but then chose to reconvert to Christianity," said The Barnabas Fund, which has close contacts with the converts.
In addition the converts want the office reopened which used to administer conversions to Christianity as conversions to Islam can be officially performed in an office at Al-Azhar University.
A similar office used to be available for Muslims who wished to become Christians, which was based in the headquarters of the Coptic Church before it was closed in 1970, The Barnabas Fund said.
The Government has said it will tackle Muslim extremism, but human rights groups have noticed a wide spread crack down against Christians in Egypt, with 66 million people, Africa's second largest country by population after Nigeria.