09 October 2009
Coptic Family Forced to Surrender Woman Rescued in Egypt
With extortion and violence, authorities pressure father to return daughter to Muslim husband.
State Security Investigations (SSI) forces in Egypt arrested, abused and then extorted money from a Coptic Christian for rescuing his daughter from her Muslim husband, who was holding her against her will in Alexandria, according to sources in Egypt. Security forces also arrested 10 people in Alexandria and tortured them in an attempt to find those involved in the rescue. Authorities are preparing to make a new wave of arrests, the sources said.On Sept. 30, they said, the only daughter of Gamal Labib Hanna called home and asked her family to save her from her Muslim husband. How Hanna’s daughter, Myrna Gamal Hanna, came to marry Mohamad Osama Hefnawy is disputed, but sources said the now-20-year-old woman was 19 and under the age of marital consent when she and Hefnawy were wed 10 months ago. According to Egyptian civil law, a woman under the age of 21 has to have approval of her father or another male member of her family if the father is deceased. In Myrna Gamal Hanna’s case, no such approval was given.Moreover, sources said, the woman’s future father-in-law was inexplicably allowed to stand in place of her father in approving the marriage, in violation of Egyptian law. Later, sources said, Hefnawy and his father converted the young woman to Islam.The sources said that the elder Hanna went to Hefnawy’s apartment on Oct. 1 to get his daughter. En route he passed a café where he enlisted the help of Rafaat Girges Habib and at least four other men. At the apartment, Hefnawy attacked the Copts with a metal pole but Hanna was able to retrieve his daughter, who was six months pregnant. He and his wife hid her at an undisclosed location. After the rescue, Hefnawy and his neighbors filed a report with local police and the SSI, a powerful Interior Ministry agency accused of various human rights violations. Soon after, Hanna’s brothers, one brother-in-law and his mother-in-law were rounded up, charged with abduction and detained. According to sources in Egypt, at least one of the family members was tortured until Hanna turned himself in. Authorities also ransacked his apartment.The sources said security forces pressured Hanna until he agreed not only to hand his daughter back to Hefnawy but also to give him several thousand dollars.“Cases like this are very common, they happen every day,” said Rasha Noor, an Egyptian human rights activist and journalist living outside of Egypt. “That’s usually what happens when families try to rescue daughters from their kidnappers in most of these kinds of cases.” As part of terms forced upon Hanna, he is not allowed to see his daughter unless he meets her in a police station and is accompanied by SSI officer Essam Shawky. Additionally, phone calls to his daughter will be monitored.“Once [a woman] becomes a Muslim, you can’t get her back,” Noor said.Hanna and the members of his family were released on Oct. 2, but soon after authorities began seeking Habib. Police broke into Habib’s plumbing shop and demolished it. On Saturday (Oct. 3) they rounded up at least 10 people, most members of Habib’s immediate family. Security forces tortured the men, but sources said Habib’s brother, Romany, bore the brunt of the brutality. When he was released the next day, they said, his clothes and those of the others were smeared with blood.Habib and at least four other people remain in hiding in Egypt. Sources said authorities will make a third round of arrests in an attempt to flush him out.