By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO/WASHINGTON (BosNewsLife)-- The United States Congress has urged Egypt to immediately release a Coptic Christian who has been jailed by Egyptian authorities since December 3, 2013 after he converted from Islam.
In a letter to Egypt's president and the Egyptian attorney general, legislators said the detention of Bishoy Armia Boulous was "clearly related to his religious conversion" and that he has "reportedly been harassed and physically attacked on several occasions by officials of the Tora Prison in South Cairo."
The letter is an effort led by Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida.
He and other legislators told President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Attorney General Hisham Barakat that "dropping all charges against Mr. Boulous and his swift release will help to demonstrate not only your administration's commitment to equal protection under the law...but that millions of men and women across Egypt need not fear government prosecution simply for choosing to change their religious beliefs."
Bishoy, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy, gained widespread domestic and international attention in 2007 when he became the first known Egyptian citizen to sue the Egyptian government for refusing to change the religious affiliation listed on his identification card from Muslim to Christian.
Soon after the suit became public, several Islamic religious leaders called for Bishoy's death. "He was subsequently detained and tortured by Egyptian authorities on several occasions while his wife and children were eventually forced to flee the country," said International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group closely monitoring the case.
In 2009, Bishoy was charged with blasphemy, or "defaming Islam," a charge that has since been renewed, ICC said. Bishoy's next hearing was set to take place on December 28.
His ongoing detention comes amid uncertainty over the whereabouts of four Egyptian Christians who were taken off a bus as they returned to Egypt from working in Libya.
Nearly four months after the incident, families have tried to press the Egyptian government to seek the fate of the four men, but no steps have been taken, leaving the families heart-broken, according to Christians familiar with their situation case.
They are just a few of the families of Christians who are suffering as a result of targeting by extremists groups in Libya, ICC said.
On August 25, Gamal Matta Hakim, Raafat Matta Hakim, Romany Matta Hakim, and their cousin, Adel Sedky Hakim boarded a minibus to travel back to Egypt.
As they made their way past Sirte, Libya the bus was stopped by militants from Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamic extremist group.
The militants reportedly took the four Christians off the vehicle and forced the driver to continue on with the three other Muslim passengers.