Egypt’s Adjustments Lack Depth For Religious Freedom Change

11/04/2021 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – Egypt’s courts accepted a case for the removal of the religious identification field from national ID cards at the end of October, a step in the right direction as many have called for its removal for years. Elsewhere in the court system however, prisoners of conscience, including human rights activists, are being referred to emergency courts, where the rulings are not subject to appeal.

Naguib Gabrail, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, filed the national ID case with the Administrative Court, citing that religious identity is often abused for religious-based discrimination. Though its removal will not put an end to all forms of persecution, the issue has caused concern for some time and would submit Egypt’s Christians as equal before the law. The issue has been raised unsuccessfully before in 2016 and 2018.

However, without addressing deeper discrimination issues, beneficial yet surface-level changes will yield little impact on Egypt’s Christian community. The indefinite pre-trial detention of prisoners of conscience and their referral to the emergency courts system indicate a deep need for changes in Egypt’s legal system. Several human rights activists have been in pre-trial detention for longer than the allowed 24-month period. Patrick Zaki is nearing the end of the allowed detainment period, though his case has already been referred to the emergency court. On October 16, several prisoners of conscience were referred before an emergency court, which technically does not have jurisdiction over civilians.

A joint letter released on October 19 by organizations calling for changes stated that the detainment was  “a form of open-ended punishment by recycling detainees into new cases with identical charges once they have served the maximum legally-allowable duration”. Regarding the transfer to emergency courts, an anonymous researcher also told Al-Monitor, “The rulings of these courts are final and cannot be appealed or overturned before other courts, which is a fundamental violation of human rights, the right to a fair trial and the defendants’ right to appeal the verdicts issued against them.” The rulings decided in emergency courts cannot be appealed or submitted for retrial. The only objection comes through filing with the military ruler, though the process has never proven successful.

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