Egypt sentences Christian family of 8 to 15 years for converting from Islam

(Photo: Retuers/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)A Coptic Christian reads the bible during the Coptic Christmas eve mass at St. Mark Cathedral, in Cairo January 6, 2013.

An Egyptian court has sentenced a mother and her 7 children to 15 years in prison for converting from Islam to Christianity. The Beni Suef court also sentenced seven registration office employees who helped the family change their identity cards to five years in prison.

According to Egyptian law, it is illegal for Muslims to change their religion to Christianity, change their Muslim name or marry non-Muslims.

The court sentenced Nadia Mohamed Ali to 15 years in prison after she decided to convert back to Christianity following the death of her husband. Her children Mohab, Maged, Sherif, Amira, Amir, and Nancy Ahmed Mohamed abdel-Wahab also shared the same sentence.

Ali, who was raised Christian, converted to Islam 23 years ago when she married Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab Mustafa, a Muslim. After her husband died in 1991, she converted herself and her children back to Christianity in order to obtain an inheritance from her family.

Between 2004 and 2006, Ali asked employees in a registration office in Beba to change their identification cards to read Christian names, their religious affiliation as Christianity, and their place of residence to Beni-Suef.

The government discovered the changes to the family's registration cards when Ali's son extracted a birth certificate replacing his Muslim name with a Christian one, Malak Bishoy abdel-Massih. He was arrested at the scene.

The court, headed by Judge Ashraf abdel-Naby Shahin and Judge Tamer abdel-Rahman, also sentenced the seven employees that helped her family: Nabil Adly Hana, Ayad Naguib Ayad, Hany Bebawy Reyad, Amgad Awad Bebawy, Shehata Wahba Ghobrial, Mohamed Oweis abdel-Gawad, and Mohamed abdel-Fatah el-Berawy to five years in prison.

The head of a Washington D.C.-based organization that advocates for religious freedom was condemned Egypt's criminalization of Christianity in the case of Ali and her family.

"Now that Sharia law has become an integral part of Egypt's new constitution, Christians in that country are at greater risk than ever," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, according to Fox News. "This is another tragic case that underscores the growing problem of religious intolerance in the Muslim world. To impose a prison sentence for a family because of their Christian faith sadly reveals the true agenda of this new government: Egypt has no respect for international law or religious liberty."

President Mohamed Morsi signed a new Sharia-based constitution into law last month after he pushed it through the parliament last year.

Human rights advocates around the world have strongly criticized the constitution, which was drafted by members of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, as containing vague language that does not protect the freedom of expression and religion.

Christians and liberals, who were given a minority number of seats on the drafting committee of the new constitution, had resigned in protest over the document.

A recent report by persecution watchdog Open Doors ranked Egypt as the 25th worst country where Christians are persecuted for their faith. The list of 50 countries ranked North Korea at the top.

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