Egypt (AINA) -- On October 24, 2009 Egyptian State Security arrested a Christian Copt in the village of Deir Samalout, Samalout, Minia province, for praying "without a license." He was held in prison for two days before being released on "compassionate grounds." Maurice Salama Sharkawy, 37 years old, had invited Pastor Elia Shafik, to conduct the sacrament of the 'Anointing of the Sick' for his sick father, who had suffered a stroke. State Security broke into his house while the prayers were ongoing, handcuffed Maurice, put him into a police car and took him to a police station for interrogation.
Authorities accused him of carrying out "religious rites without a license" and "causing sectarian sedation" by calling a priest into the village. A number of his cousins living in the same family house and who attended the prayers were also detained with him.
State Security has placed Maurice under observation by three policemen.
In an audio interview with Wagih Yacoub of Middle East Christian Association (MECA), Maurice said that State Security told him he should have gone to them first to obtain permission before carrying out any religious rites. He was also advised by Security that there are twelve Muslim houses in the village and that would create sectarian clashes.
The son of the village mayor filed a complaint that the Copt Maurice has converted his home into a place of worship without obtaining a governmental license to host performances of religious rites.
The police record of the investigation states the defendant called for this prayer meeting, which raised the anger of a number of Muslim neighbors who complained to the mayor of the village. The village of Deir Samalut has no church, and the nearest one is in the village of el Tayeba, over five miles away.
Mohammed Khalaf Allah, mayor of the village Deir Samalout, told al-Sherouk newspaper that Maurice used to invite Copts in his home, and that he asked him more than once to go to church (in the next village) and "pray there but he claimed that he could not go to church and that the priest visits him at home for ordinary matters, which is common among Christians." The mayor also said: "The villagers confirmed to me more than once that the sound of prayer comes out of Maurice's house, and that he refuses to go to church and decides to pray in his own home together with a number of the village Copts."
Commenting on the latest incident, Rev. Moses Raphael of the Samalout Coptic Orthodox Diocese said the arrest of the village Copts for praying at home is not uncommon. "Such a matter comes as no surprise; it has become common in Minya to prevent Christians from praying."
Given the recent security clampdown on Christians praying in places outside their licensed churches, Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic Watani newspaper, blames the State as the main party standing in the way of promulgating the unified law for building places of worship which, would put an end to these human rights transgressions. "Authorities turn a blind eye to Constitutional provisions of equality and freedom of belief." He said. "They terrorize worshippers who dare conduct services outside a licensed church, treating them as law violators, despite the fact that the root problem lies in the authorities' reluctance to permit the erection of new churches or restore existing ones."
By Mary Abdelmassih