Coptic Orthodox Layman Targeted for Alleged Evangelism Activities
by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, July 6 (Compass) -- Officials from Egypt's powerful State Security Intelligence (SSI) agency detained a Coptic Orthodox Christian for the fourth time in early June, interrogating him under torture on accusations of preaching Christianity to Muslims.
Aziz Tawfik Rezkalah, 56, was arrested by SSI officials on the night of June 7 at his home in El Mahalla el-Kubra, 60 miles north of Cairo in the Nile Delta.
Rezkalah said the police accused him of "preaching the gospel to someone called Zakaria." A police officer named Mohammed Issa and another officer identified only as "Yasser" stripped Rezkalah of all his clothing, blindfolded him and then insulted and beat him, demanding that he confess to the accusation.
"I never saw this person (Zakaria) before," Rezkalah said. However, he had heard that a man by that name had reportedly complained to the sheikh of the local mosque because the mosque's microphone was placed directly in front of his apartment.
"I requested to face Zakaria," Rezkalah said, "or to hear tapes recorded with my voice, (saying what) they claimed." The Copt said he was not allowed to meet his accuser, nor was he confronted with proof concerning the allegations.
"They came and took me in front of my family, after midnight," said Rezkalah, who is married with three daughters.
"All of this is because I am the chief of the board of directors of a Christian organization," Rezkalah said. He currently heads a Coptic Orthodox organization called "Nour El-Injil," meaning, "Light of the Gospel."
As a registered group, Nour El-Injil sponsors a variety of spiritual activities for Coptic Christians in El Mahalla el-Kubra, where its ministry has reportedly decreased the number of Copts willing to convert to Islam.
"He is effectively teaching Christians about their (own) religion," an Egyptian source in contact with Rezkalah said. "That's the main reason for his troubles with the SSI."
Rezkalah, who was released after his all-night ordeal, said it was the fourth time he had been subjected to such treatment by SSI officials over the past four years.
On the first occasion in 1996, he said, he was accused of trying to convert a young Muslim woman named Samah, who worked near his repair shop for washing machines. At that time, the police stripped him naked after picking him up at his home, blindfolded him, and then drove him to Mohammed Issa's office, he said. There he said the police officer beat him, demanding that the Copt admit he had preached Christianity to Samah.
Noting that the woman was about 23 years of age, Rezkalah asked the police official to show him any evidence against him that he had in fact tried to convert her. "He threatened that he would get the girl to his office to hear her testimony," Rezkalah said, "but this never happened. He continued to torture me using electric shocks, and beat me until midnight."
A year later, he said, he was arrested again on charges of sending letters to Muslims to persuade them to become Christians. "The interrogation was typical of the first one," he recalled, "and there wasn't any proof against me."
On the third occasion, Rezkalah was arrested as he returned to Egypt from a Christian conference in Jordan. Again, he said, the police used "an inhumane process as psychological pressure to spread fear between Christians."
"I hope these abuses will come to a stop," Rezkalah declared in a statement about his arrests that he wrote out on June 12 and gave to Compass.
According to Amnesty International's annual report on Egypt released in mid June, "torture continued to be systematic" in the headquarters of the SSI and police stations all across Egypt. At least seven deaths in police custody during 1999 were attributed to torture and abuse, the London-based human rights group claimed.
Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.