Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? That someone could be charged and sent to prison for changing their name. But it’s true. You might be thinking, but what about U2’s lead guitarist who named his daughter Blue Angel? Or Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s daughter Apple? These are crazy names, but all that has happened is that it has provided good material for day time TV and comedians. Why would someone be arrested over changing their name?
In Egypt, a person’s identification papers records what religion they belong to. The government only recognises Islam, Christianity and Judaism as official religions. The Egyptian Constitution provides for freedom of religion, but in practice this is not the case, especially when a person converts from Islam to Christianity.
This was the case for Mohammed Hegazy, who became a Christian when he was 17. Eight years later he wanted to change his name to a Christian one, Bishoy Armeya Boulous, and his religious status to Christian. He wanted to change his name so that on his daughter’s papers it would state that she was a Christian and not a Muslim.
His application was refused and during Hegazy’s court case the judge said, “He (Hegazy) can believe whatever he wants in his heart, but on paper he can’t convert.” Source
The video below shows the responses that the Egyptian authorities and media took to Hegazy’s attempt to change his name.
On 18 June 2014, Hegazy was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. The charge was filming a demonstration without obtaining government permission, which usually carries a maximum sentence of six months. It is widely believed that he was given this sentence because of his attempt to change his name and religious status.
Later in 2014, Hegazy’s sentence was reduced to one year, making him due for release in 2015. However, he is currently still being held in Tora Prison. Hegazy is regularly beaten by prison authorities and dragged across the concrete floor several times a week to try and force him to renounce his Christian faith.
What can I do?
It would be so encouraging to receive a letter from Christians on the other side of the world. Giving encouragement, favourite verses and messages of prayers go a long way to say that they have not been forgotten in their suffering.