Forced Islamization of Christian Conscripts in the Egyptian Army
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(AINA) -- Mistreatment of Christian conscripts in the Egyptian army, including beatings, psychological harassment and torture, at the hands of radical Muslim officers to force them to convert to Islam is widespread, but is rarely reported by conscripts for fear of reprisals.

In the latest incident, 22-year-old draftee Mubarak Masood Zakaria, a Coptic Christian, died in mysterious circumstances on August 15, 2009. Three days after his death the police in Mallawi summoned his father, Masood Zakaria, to inform him of his son's "sudden death" of "natural causes," and give him the body and burial permission. "We were not allowed to see the body," said the father, who works as a rope spinner and lives under the poverty line, in the Upper Egyptian village of Deir Abu Hennes, Mallawi, in Al-Minya Governorate.

Although the death certificate stated "cause of death still under investigation," permission for burial was granted.

On their way to the church for the funeral ceremony, the odor from Mubarak's corpse was so offensive the Zakaria family and some mourners decided to inspect the body before its burial. They discovered that Mubarak's body was riddled with bullets, his face was bruised and his abdomen was cut open and sewn.

The military prosecutor in Assiut summoned the father several days after the burial and tried to explain to him how his son shot himself during his sleep, with the weapon that was with him, reported Ms Nermine Reda, correspondent for Copts United advocacy.

The father believes that there is foul play, because his son was always complaining of ill-treatment by his superiors because of his religion "My son sustained multiple gunshot wounds, and what the persecutor told me is illogical," he told Ms. Reda

A mourner at the funeral voiced his fears that the booming clandestine human organs trafficking in Egypt could have found a new source of supply in poor Copts serving in the Egyptian army. "Why was his abdomen cut open and sewn if no autopsy was carried out. I believe they admitted him to hospital for a few hours to examine the state of his internal organs for harvesting."

He explained that conscripts who are targeted for enforced Islamization are those who have no school education and come from the villages, mostly from Upper Egypt; their families are poor and easily intimidated by the authorities should their sons be harmed. They have no awareness of how to seek human rights organizations or the means to pursue their grievances further.

Army officers have been previously accused by Coptic activists, based on documented evidence, of subjecting Christian draftees to persecution and extreme torture leading sometimes to their death, as a way to force them to convert to Islam.

One of these cases was that of Hany Seroufim, a Coptic draftee serving in the Egyptian army in Aswan, who was tortured and killed in August 2006, after refusing to convert to Islam. His body was thrown into the Nile near his home town Naga Hamadi. His family was told by the army that he drowned. Marks of torture covered his whole body, with the cross tattooed on his arm cut out with a knife.

Earlier, Hani had told his family that the unit commanding officer always humiliated and tortured him in front of his peer soldiers, because Hani was a Christian. When he asked him blatantly to convert to Islam, Hani refused and told him he would notify the military intelligence, to which the officer threatened Hany with revenge.

Pressure from Coptic advocacy groups forced the state to perform an autopsy nearly four months later but the results were inconclusive because of the lapse of time and the state of the corpse. Christian organizations were able to obtain photos of Hany's tortured body. Recordings of his family's testimony were obtained and aired by the Ameican CBN News.

Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub said that his advocacy, Middle East Christian Association, will sponsor the case of Mubarak Masood Zakaria and that top attorney Mamdouh Nakhla, head of the Al-Kalema Human Rights Center will handle the case.

The death of Mubarak leaves many unanswered questions, including the extent of collusion between the different authorities, including the prosecution, to cover-up the crime.

By Mary Abdelmassih

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