Copt who sought asylum finally released from Egypt jail

An Egyptian Copt jailed without charges for 28 months has been released from the Al-Gharbaliat Prison near Alexandria.

Hany Samir Tawfik, 29, was set free on June 28, seven months after his case was first publicized outside Egypt. He PELogoTransparentMedhad been arrested by Egypt’s State Security Investigation (SSI) authorities on March 3, 2003.

A Coptic Christian who had gone to Saudi Arabia to work, Tawfik was deported back to Egypt in the summer of 2002 after requesting asylum from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh. He was promptly detained for interrogation at Lazogly, Cairo’s notorious SSI headquarters, but released after 52 days.

Seven months later, Tawfik was again arrested under unknown accusations. The reasons for his re-arrest by order of the Interior Ministry still have not been made public. But the young Copt admitted earlier this month to Compass, “There were many black pages in the diary of my life.”

Stating he had been “full of lies” before he was jailed, Tawfik said that while he was in prison, “I got to read through the Bible, to understand it and my own faith.”

Tawfik’s widowed mother had appealed directly to Interior Minister Habib el-Adly for her son’s release a year ago, after SSI officials told her to forget her son and accept his imprisonment. But her open letter to El-Adly published in two Cairo newspapers, and her subsequent interview with Compass last November, put Tawfik’s case before the public eye.

Tawfik said authorities’ attitude toward him “changed 100 percent” during his last seven months of imprisonment, after his case became known abroad.

“They wanted to release me then, because I had become a headache for them,” Tawfik said.

Reacting to reports that Tawfik had lost vision in one eye while incarcerated, prison authorities sent him to Alexandria’s El-Raml Hospital for eye surgery in early February. He was told to expect to remain in the hospital for three weeks. But after an initial
examination by the eye surgeon, the operation was postponed without explanation.
He was sent back to jail three days later.

Subsequently a court order was issued on March 9 for Tawfik’s release, but authorities ordered him to SSI headquarters in Cairo, renewed his detention order, and sent him back to Al-Gharbaliat Prison. Judicial process requires the release of prisoners who remain uncharged after 45 days, but under Emergency Law regulations in force since 1981 the SSI routinely overrules this requirement.

While in prison, Tawfik came close to losing his eyesight, weakened already by lens implants he received five years ago. His physical stress in prison aggravated his condition further, causing the iris in both eyes to rupture.

Through funds raised by local Coptic Christians, he has undergone three eye operations since his release. The first two surgeries in July restored considerable sight in his right eye, followed by an October 17 operation on his left eye.

“I am mostly just seeing with my right eye now,” Tawfik said. “I can just barely see with my left eye.” Two more operations are pending on his left eye, he said.

“I am thankful to my mother and the Christians outside Egypt who prayed for me,” Tawfik said. “Of all the Christians in my church, only my mother believed that I would be released soon. The others thought I would only come out when I was an old man, or maybe never.”

Looking back on his jail experience, Tawfik said it was like waking up in a horror movie and discovering it was reality. “I don’t want to ever experience that again,” he said. “So now I need to open a new page in my life.”