Religious freedom advocates demand Egypt release Christians jailed for using Facebook

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Advocates for religious freedom are urging the Egyptian government to release two Christian men, Nour Girgis and Abdulbaqi Saeed Abdo, who have been detained without trial since 2021 for their association with a Facebook page that supports individuals converting from Islam to Christianity. Authorities linked their involvement with terrorism activities.

In November 2021, Girgis, an employee at a pharmaceutical company, was summoned to a police station under the pretense of routine questioning, said legal advocacy group ADF International, in a statement.

This led to an incommunicado detention for 40 days, added the group, which is backing international legal efforts for the men’s release. Subsequently, Girgis was transferred to a Terrorism Unit where he was informally accused of leading a Facebook group named “Al Abareen,” meaning “to cross over” in Arabic, and committing blasphemy against Islam.

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Abdulbaqi Saeed Abdo (L), and Nour Girgis and Abdulbaqi Saeed Abdo (R).
Abdulbaqi Saeed Abdo (L), and Nour Girgis and Abdulbaqi Saeed Abdo (R). | ADF International

Girgis has endured repeated interrogations, humiliation and physical torture without a formal trial date, preventing adequate legal defense preparation, said Elizabeth Francis, legal counsel for ADF International’s Global Religious Freedom team.

Saeed, originally from Yemen, faced arrest in December 2021 for his activities related to the same Facebook group and public evangelism. Saeed has been subjected to transfers across various detention facilities, suffering from severe medical issues worsened by the poor conditions of confinement. His family, including a son born during his detention, has been allowed only sporadic visits.

Both men’s legal plight has been marred by continuous delays and postponements of their trials, leading ADF International to take their cases to the international stage.

The group says it has reported the situation to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, arguing that the Egyptian authorities have violated international law standards for religious freedom and fair trial rights.

Kelsey Zorzi, ADF International’s director of advocacy for Global Religious Freedom, stressed the Egyptian government’s responsibility to adhere to its international human rights obligations. “The rights to religious freedom, free expression, and a fair trial are all enshrined in international law, and Egyptian authorities have blatantly violated these basic rights by detaining these men and prolonging their imprisonment. It is past time for these men to be released,” she said.

Former U.S. Senator and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback, also commented on the implications of the case.

“The freedom of religion and belief is an unalienable human right, worthy of the highest protection. What has happened to these two men in Egypt is unacceptable, and an undeniable violation of their right to worship freely,” said Brownback, referring to the growing global hostility toward religion and stressing the need for continued advocacy to protect religious minorities worldwide.

Incidents of Christian persecution in Egypt vary from Christian women being harassed while walking in the street to Christian communities being driven out of their homes by extremist mobs. Christians are typically treated as second-class citizens.

Egypt’s government speaks positively about the Egyptian Christian community, but the lack of serious law enforcement and the unwillingness of local authorities to protect Christians leave them vulnerable to all kinds of attacks. Churches and Christian nongovernmental organizations are restricted in their ability to build new churches or run social services.

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