Bishoy Armia Boulous converted from Islam to Christianity seven years ago and compounded his offense in the minds of most Egyptians by suing the government to give him a new Christian ID card. Now he has been arrested–again–as a journalist for reporting on anti-Coptic violence and has been sentenced to 5 years in prison. Christianity Today tells the story of this bold convert.
In August 2007, Boulous earned widespread fame – and rage from Islamists – when he decided to file a legal case to have his religion and name changed on his government-issued identification card. In a country where 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims polled three year later said the state should execute those who leave Islam, Boulous became an extremely controversial figure as his face appeared on newspapers and magazines across the country.
When he was arrested last year, human rights activists said they feared for his safety. Halfa confirmed that Boulous has been tortured and attacked in prison, but declined to give any details about his mistreatment or injuries.
“He told me he has been treated in an inhumane way in prison,” Halfa said.
Part of the charges against Boulous had to do with his status as a journalist. Egyptian media reported that he was investigated for gathering news for The Way TV [a Coptic Christian network]. . . .Boulous became a Christian in 1998. After his conversion, he was arrested several times by the former State Security Investigations Service (SSI). Boulous was tortured by SSI agents for three days during one of his stints in jail, he told a Compass Direct News reporter in 2010. Still, he refused to recant his faith in Christ.
Boulous said the main reason he filed the suit was to protect his children from the same persecution he suffered for becoming a Christian. After filing suit, he was forced into hiding when attacks and threats against his life became overwhelming. In one incident, for several days extremists surrounded a home where Boulous was no longer living. In another, a group of men broke into Boulous’ apartment, rifled through it and set it on fire while he was away.
According to Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights, Boulous’ wife, also a convert from Islam, and their two children are living in an undisclosed country in Europe.
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but is limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which can override national law. While it is easy and even encouraged for someone in Egypt to convert to Islam, it is impossible for a Muslim to legally convert to Christianity. [CT has explored the complications of conversion in Egypt.]
According to Egyptian law, every citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card. The card is necessary for anyone who wants to open a bank account, enroll children in school or start a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines many of the civil laws to which one is subject.