Court to hear lawsuit against Pope Shenouda for holding priest’s wife

A group of Islamist lawyers have filed a lawsuit in an Egyptian administrative court against Coptic Pope Shenouda to compel him to release alleged Muslim convert Camillia Shehata.

“Resorting to court is the most civilized and legal way to deal with this issue and saying that this could fan the flames of hatred is nothing short of fear mongering,” Lawyer Mamdouh Ismail, who is known for advocating Islamists in terrorism-related cases, told Al-Masry Al-Youm on Monday. “This is an authority that has forcibly taken a citizen, hid her in a secret location, and this in itself is a blatant violation of law.”

Shehata’s case has been making headlines especially as a large crowd of Muslims protested rowdily after evening prayers in front of the Nour mosque in Abbassiya last Saturday carrying pictures of the “convert to Islam,” and calling for her “return to the Muslim community.” The small posters and banners had Shehata’s picture in a full black veil that only keeps the face visible and carried the words, “I’ll die a Muslim.”

“The whole issue is bigger than Camillia, it’s about laws and constitution and the need of the state to intervene in order to impose them. Using words like ‘sectarianism’ and ‘sensitive issues’ in a human rights case is wrong,” Ismail said.  

In addition to the lawsuit filed, which will be considered in a first session on 2 November, Ismail is spearheading another initiative in which he filed a petition to Egypt’s general prosecutor asking him to “order a search into Christian places of worship” where Shehata is believed to have been hidden after being handed over to Church officials by police authorities last month.

Shehata, 25, the wife of a Coptic preacher, had earlier left her home in the southern Minya province and her only child behind so that, reportedly, she can live as a Muslim. She went missing for five days before she was found by authorities.

Conflicting reports have surfaced regarding the details of how she was found and why she left her house to begin with. Some reports, particularly  those featured on Islamist websites that went as far as to say she already converted to Islam secretly a few years earlier, said Shetata sought some Muslims for help but was chased by authorities and found in a mosque minutes before she was supposed to declare her official conversion. These stories remain unconfirmed.

This Tuesday, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information is expected to demand the revelation “of the fate of Camillia Shehata,” according to their official website, during an international day dedicated to those who “disappeared.”

“She was forcibly detained in a monastery,” wrote the Cairo-based rights watchdog on its website on Monday, “which is considered abduction punishable by law and is a case of involuntary disappearance criminalized by the UN.”

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