An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced a journalist to five years in prison for inciting Muslim-Christian strife, raising an outcry from his supporters who accuse the judiciary of targeting him for having converted from Islam to Christianity.
Egypt’s Al Ahram news site reported that Bishoy Armia Boulous, 32 — known previously as Mohammed Hegazy El-Sayed — was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison and fined about $70 for reporting “misinformation” to a U.S.-based Christian television station “in order to depict Egyptian Christians as victims of discrimination” and “instigate sectarianism.”
The lesser-known case is separate from that of the the three Al Jazeera journalists also sentenced Monday in Cairo, which was widely covered and decried by the mainstream media.
Armia – as the Egyptian press referred to him – was arrested in Minya in December after having reported on clashes between Muslims and Christians in the city.
He appealed to Egyptian authorities in 2008 to change the religion written on his identity card to Christianity, a case that received wide local media attention.
The Christian publication Morning Star News reported that he was the first Egyptian to try to legally change the religion designation on his ID, which all adults in Egypt are required to carry.
There were conflicting reports over when exactly the sentencing occurred; the New York Times reported it was on Monday and Christian publications reported it happened last week.
Lebanon’s Daily Star previously reported that Armia was initially detained for questioning in December and was accused by a prosecutor of “transmitting a false image of persecution of Egypt’s Copts.”
The Western media has reported widely on the targeting of the Christian population and churches – which has included kidnappings and arson attacks – during violent demonstrations in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohammed Morsi last summer, particularly in the Minya province where Armia was arrested.
Armia reportedly photographed police stations and churches that were targeted by Islamists in those summer clashes.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters lashed out at the Coptic Christian minority whom it accused of being behind the coup that ousted Morsi from power.
Armia’s attorney, Wagdy Halfa, said that his client plans to appeal but that would likely be rejected, the Morning Star News reported.
“He did not commit a crime,” Halfa said. “Even if he did take some photos or videos of a protest, that is legal. Even if he was doing it for a newspaper, that is legal.”
Halfa believes that the real reason Armia was convicted was because he converted from Islam to Christianity.
The attorney also said Armia had been attacked in prison, though it’s unclear whether it was by other inmates or prison guards.
“He told me he has been treated in an inhumane way in prison,” Halfa said.
The Morning Star News reported that following his religious conversion in 1998, he was arrested several times and tortured, but still “he refused to recant his faith in Christ.”
Armia has reportedly said that he wanted to change the religion designation on his identity card in order to protect his children from the suffering he has endured for converting.
The Morning Star News reported that after the 2008 suit over his ID card, he faced death threats and was forced into hiding.
Mamdouh Nakhla of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights told the publication that his wife and their children have since moved to Europe for their safety.
(H/T: New York Times)