Journalist Mohamed Hegazy was sentenced to five years in prison by the Minya Misdemeanor Court on Monday, reported the state-owned news site Al-Ahram Gate.
Hegazy, a correspondent for the US-based Coptic channel Al-Tareq, was arrested in Minya while reporting on sectarian violence there in December 2013. His camera and flash drives were confiscated, and he was accused of spreading fabricated news and inciting sectarian strife by falsely reporting that Copts face religious discrimination in Egypt.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher on religious freedoms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Mada Masr that Hegazy — who changed his name to Bishoy Armia after converting to Christianity three years ago — was filming Coptic families whose homes were burned down in Minya’s Bany Obiad village at the time of his arrest.
“But instead of arresting the perpetrators of the violence, they arrested Hegazy — the police knew about the story of his conversion,” Ibrahim asserted.
The reporter had filed a suit with the Administrative Court to change the religious affiliation on his national ID card after he and his wife converted, but the case was thrown out. Egyptians wishing to legally register their religious conversion — particularly those who have converted to Christianity or Baha’i — face several bureaucratic obstacles to doing so.
Since the failed court case, Hegazy was repeatedly harassed by security forces, impelling him to move across the country several times over the past year, according to Ibrahim.
The journalist’s lawyer has said that Hegazy was also harassed by police and other inmates during his detention, Ibrahim added.