MINYA, Egypt (Christian Examiner) – On the heels of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's Sept. 22 announcement pardoning numerous journalists detained in the country, the international community is concerned to hear no news of Bishoy Boulos, a convert to Christianity who has been detained since his illegal arrest in Dec. 2013.
Boulos's lawyer, Karam Ghobrial, says the journalist has been unlawfully detained, persecuted because of his religion, tortured by beatings several times a week, and treated like a violent criminal including having his head shaved, according to a report by Release International.
After his conversion from Islam to Christianity in his teens, Boulos, who is also known by his former Muslim name Mohamed Hegazy, attained international attention from the persecution following his attempt to change his religion to Christianity on his identification card in 2007.
"It's great news that high-profile journalists were set free," said Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International.
"But Bishoy Boulos remains in jail for reporting on attacks against Christians and for asserting his claim to be a Christian. Egypt must set Bishoy free and deliver on its promise to guarantee full religious freedom."
RELEASE OF JOURNALISTS AN 'EMPTY GESTURE'
Boulos was arrested in Minya without a warrant in 2013 for documenting the persecution of Christians allegedly for The Way TV, an Arabic Christian broadcasting company. The accusations included misrepresenting Islam and taking photographs without permission.
Though his one-year sentence ended in Dec. 2014, Boulos continues to be held, now on charges of blasphemy.
"Those pardoned today include only a fraction of the hundreds of people across the country who have been arbitrarily arrested, and unlawfully detained," Amnesty International said in a statement about the presidential pardon.
Among those released by President Sisi were three Al Jazeera journalists and 16 women accused of violating a 2013 protest ban, according to Reuters. The announcement coincided with the president's travel to a United Nations summit.
The initial arrests were "ludicrous," Amnesty International said, calling the pardons an "empty gesture" without the continued release of the illegally detained throughout the country.
Ghobrial argues that Boulos' international reputation as the Christian who attempted to legalize his conversion is the cause of his continued imprisonment, according to a report from World Watch Monitor in Dec. 2014.
Robinson agreed: "Bishoy's continued detention probably has more to do with his earlier conversion from Islam than to any alleged offence connected with reporting."
PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIAN JOURNALISTS
Human rights violations identified by Amnesty International include severe restriction of freedom of expression and numerous counts of arbitrary arrests and detentions.
"The continued persecution of Bishoy Boulos reveals two things," said Robinson. "The authorities are reluctant to face the truth about continuing attacks against Christians, and converts to Christianity remain at serious risk despite the country's new constitution, which is supposed to protect religious freedom."
It is to be hoped that President Sisi's announcement will become commonplace as Christians like Boulos being unfairly held continue to be released.
But despite Boulos's lawyer's optimism that there is no evidence to be found corroborating Boulos's present charges, Release International remains concerned that religious freedom in Egypt is merely academic.
"Unless there is a clear mechanism to enforce the rights of the country's Christian minority, those rights are likely to remain every bit as theoretical as they have been in the past," Robinson said.