The International Society for Human Rights nominates Coptic Priest Metaos Wahba as "prisoner of the month of November 2008" The International Society for Human Rights nominates Coptic Priest Metaos Wahba as "prisoner of the month of November 2008" Court ruling makes Christian marriages more difficult in Egypt The International Society for Human Rights (IGFM) and the Evangelical News Agency ‘idea’ nominated the Coptic Orthodox priest Metaos Wahba as "prisoner of the month of November 2008" and called for his support. The clergyman was sentenced on 12 Oktober 2008 for alleged "forgery" to five years imprisonment by a court in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Metaos Wahba, Priest of the Saint Mary Church in Giza near Cairo, performed a wedding of a Muslim converted to Christianity female to a Christian man. He issued them with a marriage certificate, without knowing that the papers of the bride were forged. In Egypt, where Sunni Islam is the state religion, the conversion from Islam to another faith is a crime to be punished. Ex-Muslims suffer discrimination and have major problems when they want to alter their personal papers. Even in professional life, change of religion causes major disadvantages. Consequently most new christians practice their Christian faith in secret and do without an official change of their religious affiliation in their personal documents. Therefore, legally these people continue to be Muslims. The marriage of a Muslim female with a member of another faith is banned in Egypt. This is to ensure that children resulting from the marriage, are not lost to Islam. Also, the bride in question who converted to Christianity could not present any personal papers showing her new religion. She saw that the only way out to marry her fiance was to present Priest Wahba with forged documents. Priest Wahba wedded the couple and presented them with the marriage certificates. The Egyptian authorities learned of the marriage. On 12 October 2008 a court in Cairo sentenced the priest and the two wedding witnesses to five years imprisonment for "forgery". Priest Wahba is serving his prison sentence in Tora prison near Cairo. The newlywed couple are on the run for fear of prosecution, and their whereabouts is unknown. Prison Sentences as a Deterrent Christians represent an estimated eight to ten million people which is around eight percent of the approximately 79 million Egyptian citizens. The majority of the Christians are Coptic Orthodox. There are also smaller groups of Catholics and Protestants. The IGFM criticized the ban on marriages of couples with different religious affiliation. Likewise, they criticized the fact that the sentenced did not have a fair trial and their ignorance about the forged documents were not taken into account. This gives rise to suspicion that the sentence of the Egyptian court was used as a deterrent for other similar marriage candidates. The rigid rules regarding the registration of religious affiliation in the Egyptian personal papers always leads to discrimination and unjust persecution, as the verdict against Priest Wahba proves. "We call on Justice Minister Mamdouh Moheiddin and Religion Minister Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk to allow for a review of the sentence. The Sentences are not proportionate to the offense, and contradicts international legal standards," said Martin Lessenthin, CEO of IGFM.
The IGFM calls for an appeal to be sent by mail to the Egyptian President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak for the right to change one’s religion, including changes to the relevant identity cards. The President should also allow Priest Wahba a new and fair trial.
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