By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Representatives of Egypt’s Christian minority, already rocked by several attacks in recent weeks, continued their attempts Wednesday, May 20 to obtain the release of a priest they say was sentenced to five years hard labor for crimes he did not commit.
Mattaos Wahba, a priest of Archangel Michael Church in the area of Kerdasa in Egypt’s Geza region, was sentenced in October on charges of conducting a marriage between an ex-Muslim and a Christian with false documents, said The Free Copts, an advocacy group and website for Egyptian Christians, known as Copts
However the convert, Mariam Nabil, told a popular television show, “A Daring Question” last month that “Father Mattaos” was innocent as he did “not have any role” in getting her forged Christian identification papers. I did not know him then, as this took place in 2004 and I got married in 2006,” according to a translation provided by The Free Copts.
Nabil she saw no other option than providing forged Christian documents. “I have the right to have an ID card that reflects my true religious affiliation. [But] The Egyptian government does not give Muslims who convert to Christianity a legal alternative to get these papers. Had I been a Christian who wanted to convert to Islam, I would have had all the help I needed. But, because I am leaving Islam they put hurdles in my way,” she added.
Church representatives said it was difficult to see for priests to control papers during a marriage ceremony. The Free Copts and lawyers hope the television interview will boost Wahba’s changes of being released. However it comes at a time of mounting tensions in this predominantly Muslim nation, which saw two attacks earlier this month,
On May 10 a small homemade bomb exploded in Cairo near Saint Mary Church, the Coptic community considers a holy site, police said, reportedly interrupting a wedding and a Bible study held in the historic building.
While nobody was injured, the device damaged a car and a second one was found and detonated by police in the same area near a Coptic church in the northeast of Cairo, investigators said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility reported. Earlier on May 2 three Muslims repeatedly stabbed Coptic Christian Girgis Yousry, 21, as the army conscript was leaving the gates of the church of Saint Mary in the area of Minya in Upper Egypt, Christians said.
The violence reportedly left him with serious injuries to internal organs, and he was taken to the district hospital, where he was still receiving treatment Wednesday May 18. There has been growing concern about Islamic extremism and against Copts, who comprise roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million strong population.
Coptic Christians are also suffering under a recent decision by the government to slaughter the country’s estimated pigs because of Swine flu, although no single case of the disease has been reported so far, rights groups and United Nations officials said. While consuming pig meat is despised by Muslims, many Copts are involved in the industry.