By Marwa Al-A’sar/Daily News Egypt
Cairo, Egypt, May 1, 2011
A priest’s wife who is allegedly being held against her will by the Coptic Church for converting to Islam, will soon appear on TV to refute these allegations, Church lawyer Ramsis El-Naggar told Daily News Egypt on Sunday.
“Kamilia Shehata will appear on a Coptic TV channel within a few days at her own prerogative,” El-Naggar said, adding that the Church has no authority over any citizen to make them appear publicly or remain silent.
On Saturday, the Prosecutor General had summoned Shehata to investigate rumors that have driven thousands of Muslims belonging to various Salafi groups, to protest outside the Coptic Church's Cairo headquarters to demand her release, claiming that she was a Muslim convert who was illegally detained.
The whereabouts of Shehata have been the subject of speculation and controversy since July 2010, when Shehata, the wife of Tadros Samaan, the Bishop of Saint Mark’s Church in Mowas Cathedral in Minya, had disappeared after a visit to her father in Cairo.
A week later the police said in newspaper statements that she was found and handed over to the church, but she has not appeared in public since. Her husband said at the time that she had left following a domestic dispute.
The church authorities refused to be served with the prosecutor’s summons delivered by a bailiff.
Lawyer Salah Sadek explained that the prosecution addressed the Church in the first place based on unconfirmed reports that Shehata was held there.
“The law does not dictate a specific venue from which to summon a citizen. So if it is known that she lived in the Church, then that would be considered her location,” Sadek told DNE.
If Shehata does not appear before the prosecution, Sadek explained, the prosecution should order an investigation into her whereabouts.
“I think they can turn to those who were previously in charge at the disbanded state security police since it was publicized that they had handed here over to the church and so are expected to know where she is,” Sadek argued.
Head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat told DNE that the Prosecutor General has the legal right to question church members about her case in light of allegations that Shehata is held against her will in the church, adding that he found it “strange” that the summons was not sent to her family.
Since Shehata is neither a complainant nor accused in this case, then if she does not physically appear before the prosecution, the prosecutor must then summon her family members to ascertain her safety, he added.
A number of citizens had earlier filed complaints against the church before the public prosecutor, alleging that Shehata had been kidnapped and forcibly detained inside the Cathedral in Abbasiya, while others claimed that she is being held inside a monastery in Upper Egypt.
“These are nothing but untrue rumors. Churches and monasteries… never detain people. The [Coptic Church] has no right to detain a person,” El-Naggar said.
Neither did Shehata attempt to embrace Islam, according to El-Naggar.
“Shehata is a Christian who spiritually belongs to the Coptic Church … and lives a normal life,” El-Naggar said. “The fact that she has non-Christian acquaintances does not mean she sought to embrace Islam. Anyone who claims she did has to prove it.”
El-Naggar also argued that it was illegal to summon Shehata through the Cathedral.
“The Church is not the place where Christians are to be summoned. It is against the procedural law which dictates that a person can only be summoned at his or her residence not at a place of worship,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said it would take the necessary measures to preserve the unity of Egyptians as well as Egypt’s security.
The council’s 44th communiqué published on its official Facebook page, said that the council has been exerting the necessary effort to end all sectarian issues.
Human rights activists frequently accused the notorious state security police of arresting Christian women who embrace Islam, usually because they are involved in a romantic relationship with a Muslim man, and handing them back to their families or to the church to avoid outbursts of sectarian violence.
The Coptic Church has reportedly convened a synod to discuss the growing assertiveness of Egypt's Salafis, who have said they intend to form political parties after a revolt ousted president Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 following an 18-day nationwide uprising. –Additional reporting by AFP.