CAIRO: A Christian man has been arrested for organizing a group prayer in his home.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher on freedom of religion with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Daily News Egypt that 48-year-old Maurice Salama Sharqawy, from Samalout, Minya was arrested on the evening of Oct. 27.
According to Ishaq, police received a complaint from an unnamed source who alleged that Sharqawy organizes Christian meetings and group prayers without prior permits, and summoned Sharqawy for questioning.
Sharqawy was eventually released on Oct. 29, after signing a written pledge not to hold religious ceremonies or Christian meetings in his house.
“There are only about 10 Christian families in the village of Deer Samalout, which doesn’t have a church. For this reason, when Sharqawy wanted to commemorate the one-year memorial service for his uncle’s by holding a ‘tabreek’ prayer [a prayer asking for blessings], he asked a priest responsible for the village to lead prayers in the family home, Ibrahim explained.
“About 50 or 60 people from Deer Samalout and neighboring villages attended the prayer.
Ibrahim says that since Sharqawy’s release, a permanent police presence made up of a policeman, a member of criminal investigations and a village watchman has been stationed outside his house.
This is the second such incident to take place in Samalout in 2009.
In April, EIPR reported that Benyamin Attiya was interrogated for 18 hours by the police after Attiya organized a tabreek prayer in his flat.
Ibrahim says that no law bans such prayer gatherings.
Rather, the police are empowered to take action against those involved in any gathering of more than five people under the Emergency Law’s provisions on riotous assembly.
According to Father Stefanos Shehata, a priest based in Samalout, the Church has attempted to intervene in order to put an end to the 24-hour guard outside Sharqawy’s home.
“Father Bafnotious went to the police to ask them to remove the guards that are watching Sharqawy’s house 24 hours and they told him they will – but nothing happened,- Shehata told Daily News Egypt.
Shehata suggested that such incidents intimidate Christians, who will be too afraid to accept priests in their homes.
“How can I enter a house to pray and then the owner of the house gets detained without charge – what is his charge? Praying? This will drive people to not accept priests in their homes out of fear that they will be detained and get their homes watched by guards for no reason.
“I’m appealing to President Hosni Mubarak to unify the [the right to worship] in Egypt; there are no rights for a Christian in Egypt. This man was arrested for 24 hours and his house is watched 24 hours for bringing a priest to perform the annual memorial prayer.
Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority accounts for 6-10 percent of the population. They often complain of discrimination, especially regarding laws regulating the building and maintenance of churches. -Additional reporting by Diana Ghali.