Monday, April 13, 2009

'Apostate' Tells Court: "I am a Christian, my brothers, and you could also kill me!"

Peter Athanasius in court (center)

[To be a Christian is to imitate Christ. There is no better way to do this than to be a witness for Christ in the midst of extreme hostility. As we celebrate Holy Week throughout the Orthodox world we are called to reflect upon the suffering and death of Christ to inspire us to endure all suffering and to die daily to our passions so that we may witness for Christ every day through the life we live. Living such a life will help us to endure bravely if we also are called upon to bear witness for Christ in the midst of extreme hostility. This is why the Church so highly honors the martyrs as the greatest imitators of Christ. And in our own days there are still many such martyrs and witnesses for Christ that are unknown to most people. Such is the case of Peter Athanasius, who is currently bearing witness in the Egyptian courts against Muslim hostility. Let us pray for him this Holy Week as well as all Christians in Egypt who are eagerly looking at this man as an example that could cause a reawakening for Christianity in Egypt. -J.S.]

Coptic Times
April 12, 2009

Under heavy security provided by his attorneys' team, so-called Apostate Maher Mu'Tasim whose Christian name is now Peter Athanasius, attended on Saturday 28.3.2009, a closed session at the State Council Court.During the court session he declared: "I am a Christian, my brothers, and you could also kill me!"

Last year, Peter Athanasius filed the second ever case to be filed by a Muslim-born Egyptian convert, to officially alter his, and his minor daughter's religious affiliation from Islam to Christianity.

During the last court session on 7th February, 2009, the presiding judge Hamdi Yassin, requested from Nabil Gabriel, the plaintiff’s main attorney, the presence of Peter Athanasius at court in person.

In spite of the dangers surrounding such a personal appearance due to several death threats made on his life after it became public that he abandoned Islam, and was declared an 'Apostate' by fundamentalists, forcing him to live in hiding, Peter Athanasius appeared in Court.

Attorney Ashraf Edward, one of the team of five Coptic lawyers representing Athanasius, described the emotionally-charged arguments which took place during the court session between the two parties by saying that it was a 'judgement of Christianity' on the part of fundamentalist Muslim attorneys who filed to support the state defense team.

Attorney Howaida El Omda added that the whole sessions was a defamation and contempt of Christianity by the state defense team."They were not pleading their case by law, but used a newspaper cutting of a court ruling in which the judge gave custody to the Christian-born father who converted to Islam, and in which the provisions of the ruling was that this will prevent the children from getting accustomed to going to Church!!!

"In their contempt of Christianity they argued that Islam is the 'better' religion and therefore, it is better not to move from Islam to Christianity for the sake of public interest. The true religion for Allah is Islam", commented El Omda.

One of the plaintiff's attorney team objected to the judge by saying: "I am an Egyptian citizen and a lawyer like him, stand beside him in the street and in the Bar Association and also here in court; he wants to make me feel I am inferior to him, just because I follow an 'inferior' faith to his, according to his thinking. Why is he demeaning me and my religion? Why does he make me feel that I do not follow a heavenly monotheistic religion? All this talk about children's custody so that they do not get used to going to church, is a church not a place of worship also?"

Peter Athanasius affirmed his intention to continue with his endeavors to obtain his rights, as provided for, by the Egyptian law and international covenants, to change his religion, and to replace the word "Muslim" on his identification card with "Christian."

Ashraf Edward said that after the court session, Peter Athanasius's attorney team took him to an unknown place for his safety.

He also added that there are thousands of Muslim-born Egyptians who have converted to Christianity and who are awaiting the outcome of Peter Athanasius's court case to file similar lawsuits for an official recognition of their Christian status.

The 56-year-old Peter Athanasius, who was raised as a Muslim, has been practicing Christianity for nearly 35 years; he also raised Dina, his 14-year-old daughter, as a Christian.

The court's decision is expected to be within two months.

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