AustLII [Home] [Databases] [WorldLII] [Search] [Feedback]

Refugee Review Tribunal of Australia

You are here: 
AustLII >> Databases >> Refugee Review Tribunal of Australia >> 2000 >> [2000] RRTA 1060

[Database Search] [Name Search] [Recent Decisions] [Noteup] [Context] [No Context] [Help]

N98/24584 [2000] RRTA 1060 (21 November 2000)

REFUGEE REVIEW TRIBUNAL

DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION

RRT Reference: N98/24584

Country of Reference: Egypt

Tribunal Member: Ms Kerry Anne Hartman

Date decision made: 21 November 2000

Place: Sydney

Decision: The Tribunal affirms the decision not to grant a protection visa.

BACKGROUND

The applicant, who is a citizen of Egypt, arrived in Australia and lodged an application for a protection (class AZ) visa with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs under the Migration Act 1958 (the Act). A delegate of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs refused to grant a protection (class AZ) visa and the applicant applied for review of that decision.

THE LEGISLATION

Under s.65(1) of the Act a visa may be granted only if the decision maker is satisfied that the prescribed criteria for the visa have been satisfied. The criteria for the grant of a protection (class AZ) visa are set out in s.36 of the Act and in Part 866 of Schedule 2 to the Migration Regulations as in force immediately before 20 October 1999.

Subsection 36(2) of the Act provides that a criterion for a protection visa is that the applicant for the visa is a non-citizen in Australia to whom Australia has protection obligations under the Refugees Convention as amended by the Refugees Protocol. “Refugees Convention” and “Refugees Protocol” are defined to mean the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees respectively: s.5(1) of the Act.

Australia is a party to the Refugees Convention and the Refugees Protocol and, generally speaking, has protection obligations to people who are refugees as defined in them.

THE REFUGEES CONVENTION

Article 1A(2) of the Convention defines a refugee as any person who:

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
The High Court has considered this definition in a number of cases, notably Chan Yee Kin v Minister for Immigration & Ethnic Affairs [1989] HCA 62; (1989) 169 CLR 379, Applicant A & Anor v Minister for Immigration & Ethnic Affairs and Anor (1997) 190 CLR 225 and Minister for Immigration & Ethnic Affairs v Guo & Anor (1997) 191 CLR 559.

In Guo’s case, the Court observed that the definition contains four key elements. First, an applicant must be outside his or her country. That element is not in issue in the present matter.

Second, an applicant must fear persecution. Not every threat of harm or interference with a person’s rights for a Convention reason constitutes “being persecuted”. In Chan’s case Mason CJ referred to persecution as requiring “some serious punishment or penalty or some significant detriment or disadvantage”. In the same case, McHugh J said that the notion of persecution involves selective harassment, and that in appropriate cases it may include single acts of oppression, serious violations of human rights, and measures “in disregard” of human dignity. Persecution may be directed against a person as an individual or as a member of a group. The persecution must have an official quality, in the sense that it is official, or officially tolerated or uncontrollable by the authorities of the country of nationality. Further, persecution implies an element of motivation on the part of those who persecute for the infliction of harm. People are persecuted for something perceived about them or attributed to them by their persecutors.

Third, the persecution which the applicant fears must be for one or more of the reasons enumerated in the Convention definition - race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The phrase “for reasons of” serves to identify the motivation for the infliction of the persecution.

Fourth, an applicant’s fear of persecution for a Convention reason must be a “well-founded” fear. This adds an objective requirement to the requirement that an applicant must in fact hold such a fear. A person has a “well-founded fear” of persecution under the Convention if they have genuine fear founded upon a “real chance” of persecution for a Convention stipulated reason. A fear is well-founded where there is a real substantial basis for it but not if it is merely assumed or if it is mere speculation. A “real chance” is one that is not remote or insubstantial or a far-fetched possibility. A person can have a well-founded fear of persecution even though the possibility of the persecution occurring is well below 50 per cent.

In addition, an applicant must be unable, or unwilling because of his or her fear, to avail himself or herself of the protection of his or her country or countries of nationality. An applicant who is stateless must be unable, or unwilling because of his or her fear, to return to his or her country of former habitual residence. Whenever the protection of the applicant’s country is available, and there is no ground based on well-founded fear for refusing it, the person concerned is not in need of international protection and is not a refugee.

Whether an applicant is a person to whom Australia has protection obligations is to be assessed upon the facts as they exist when the decision is made and requires a consideration of the matter in relation to the reasonably foreseeable future.

CLAIMS AND EVIDENCE

The Tribunal has before it the Department’s file, which includes the applicant’s protection visa application and written submissions in support of the application. The Tribunal also has before it written submissions in support of the application for review. The applicant also gave oral evidence to the Tribunal.

Initial application to the Department

The applicant was born in Upper Egypt.

The applicant completed secondary education and has a tertiary degree. She completed compulsory government service in the late 1980s. The applicant was employed in her field in two locations.

The applicant claims she comes from a conservative Coptic Christian family. The applicant claims her mother and father were both active in the church. The applicant claims she taught music and songs to children in the Sunday school, attended youth meetings, women meetings and bible study lessons.

The applicant claimed she lived a peaceful life in her location from when she was born until she was raped and shamed. The applicant claims she had a close and sincere friend at her work place who was a Muslim The applicant’s named friend was married with three children. The applicant claims her friend told her that she had cancer. The applicant claims when her friend was absent from work for a week she decided to visit her. The applicant claims her friend lived in a village ten minutes from her location. The applicant claims while she was visiting her friend the friend’s husband entered the house. The applicant claims she was scared of the husband as he had a very bad look “full of desire and sexual intentions”. The applicant claims she felt he was violent and savage. The applicant claims when she left the house her friend’s husband accompanied her to the station. The applicant claims when he saw her cross hanging from her neck he said “let God direct you to the proper religion the religion of Islam”.

The applicant claims two weeks after her visit a lady came to her work place and stated she was a friend of the afore mentioned friend. The applicant claimed she warned her that the afore mentioned friend’s husband was a hidden member of the Gama’at Al Isalmiya. The applicant claims the lady also told her that the husband believed the applicant would be the best person to care for his children after his wife’s death.

The applicant claims she told her mother and father about the intentions of her friend’s husband and they decided to ask the police for protection. The applicant claims she went to the Central Police station in her location and asked the police for personal protection from the extremist against potential assault. The applicant claims the police told her it was unfounded guessing and nothing would happen and they did not have enough police to provide personal protection.

The applicant claims a week later a policeman came to her work and asked her to report to the police station. The applicant claims when she went to the police station the police told her the extremist was not at his house. The applicant claims the police told her to be careful and then suggested that she pretend she had embraced Islam and they would arrest the terrorist.

The applicant claims two or three weeks later she heard that her friend and her children had been taken by the husband to an unknown place. The applicant claimed this increased her fears as she had heard that terrorists go into hiding “to commit what they want to commit in secret”. The applicant claimed as a result of her fear for two months she went to and from work in a taxi and was accompanied to church by her father. The applicant claims after this time she believed the terrorist husband had escaped from the area so her father stopped accompanying her to church.

The applicant claims on a specified day in the late 1990s on her way home from church a car stopped and two masked persons attacked her, blindfolded her and pushed her into a car. The applicant claims after half an hour the car stopped and she was thrown to the ground and her clothes were torn. The applicant claims when her blindfold was taken off she saw her friend’s husband who said to her “You are a bad girl, an infidel and blasphemer and as you have informed the police and refused to accept my claims of embracing Islam you will be punished”. The applicant claims he told her she could only be saved by embracing Islam and marrying him. The applicant claims when she refused to embrace Islam he started to rape her and she became unconscious. The applicant claims when she regained consciousness she was in front of her house. The applicant claims she did not report the rape to the police because of the scandal and shame that would result if the assault became known. The applicant claims not even her brother knows about the rape as he was working away from home at the time. The applicant claims she fears he may harm her in defending the honour of the family.

The applicant claims she remained at home for a week and then returned to work. The applicant claims she was depressed and disinterested in life after the assault. The applicant claims she started to correspond with a friend in Australia and decided it was better to go to a far country like Australia to forget what happened. The applicant claims she obtained a passport subsequently. The applicant claims her friend in Australia sent her an invitation to visit her and she obtained a visitors visa from the Australian Embassy. The applicant claims she didn’t rush to leave Egypt so that thing would appear normal and left Cairo a number of months later

The applicant claims after her arrival in Australia she told her friend here what had happened to her in Egypt. Three weeks later her friend told her that her brother in law had asked her if the applicant would agree to marry him. The applicant claims she told her what had happened to her in Egypt and he accepted her but alerted her to the fact that he had applied for refugee status in Australia and had been refused by the Department. The applicant claims they were married the following year.

The applicant fears returning to Egypt because she will be harmed or killed by the Gama’at Al Isalmiya.

The applicant also fears she will be killed by her brother or any of her relatives, if they discover she has been raped. The applicant claims any family member who does not commit an act of revenge would be considered in breach of defending the family’s honour in the society of Upper Egypt where rape is considered a serious shame to the family.

The applicant claims the Egyptian government did not provide her with personal protection when she asked for it and will not protect her in the future because she is a Christian Copt.

The applicant’s adviser submitted four articles to the Department including the US State Department Report on Religious Freedom July 1997 which states:

“there were reports of forced conversions of Coptic children to Islam, but human rights groups find it extremely difficult to determine the actual degree of compulsion used as most cases involve a Coptic girl converting to Islam to marry a Muslim boy. There are credible reports of government harassment of Christian families attempting to regain custody of their daughters and of the failure of the authorities to uphold the law prohibiting marriages without the approval of the guardian.
Application for review

The applicant’s adviser submitted that the case officer considered the crime of rape a normal event and failed to assess the effects of such an act in the society of Upper Egypt. He submitted it is not only the rape but the shame that will follow the raped girl until she is killed and also the shame that will follow the family that did not revenge the rape by disposing of the shame by killing their raped daughter.

The applicant’s adviser submitted a bundle of 14 documents relating to human rights abuses on Christian Copts in Egypt. Included in the bundle was a briefing paper by Jubilee (a UK based Christian pressure group) on the rape of Christian women dated 11 May 1994 It stated:

In a conservative society such as Egypt the importance of a woman’s virginity until marriage is paramount. An unmarried girl or woman suspected of “immoral behaviour’ or found not o be a virgin for any reason risks death at the hands of her family or at the least ostracism by her family and society.

Some Islamist extremist groups are raping teenage Christian girls as a way of forcing them to convert to Islam. Conversion offers marriage to a member of the group and “security” for the victim, whereas returning to the family after the rape would result in potentially fatal consequences as the victim is no longer a virgin.

There have been complaints of inaction on the part of the Egyptian authorities in the face of such practices and a refusal to act on behalf of victims and their families. All this has led to a significant change in lifestyle among the Christians of Upper Egypt. There is a growing reluctance to allow girls to attend school and when girls are allowed out of the house they are usually accompanied by a male member of the family”.

The report provided specific details of four reported cases:

a 14 year old girl from a poor district in Cairo kidnapped on the way to church and kept as a slave by an extremist Islamic group for two years. The girl was released several months after the arrest of the group’s leader.
a Christian girl married against her will to a member of an extremist Islamic group. She later committed suicide.
a 13 year old girl kidnapped on her way home from school by an extreme Islamic group whose family were told the girl had applied to convert to Islam. Following a court case the judge accepted the girls conversion and awarded custody of the girl to the group.
a girl kidnapped by members of an extremist Islamic group on her way to visit her aunt who was tricked into signing a request for conversion.
The Tribunal received a statement from two local Coptic clerics that the applicant is an honest and good citizen who is of great benefit to the church and her community in Australia. They stated the applicant had reported she had been subjected to many forms of persecution while living in Egypt which is in the same general area as al Kush where there were recent killings of 20 Coptic Christians and the burning of Christian houses and shops. They stated the applicant had reported that she had been raped by a militant Muslim and that many young ladies are kidnapped then raped and forced to marry Muslim men and then forced into the Islamic religion. They stated the applicant would be exposed to danger from the fundamentalists and her family because of tradition. They stated the area where the applicant lives is an area where there is constant persecution of Coptic Christians violence towards Christians, killings, torture and rape and forced conversions to Islam. They stated the employment of Christians is extremely difficult and it is an area of unrest and danger to the Coptic community.

Subsequently the applicant’s adviser submitted a bundle of report on the human right situation in Egypt including a bundle of eleven coloured pages of Copts murdered in al Kush, the minute of a debate in the House of Commons on 14 June 2000, a report by Jubilee dated 23 February 1999, The Amnesty International Annual Report for 1999 and an Amnesty Report dated September 1998.

Evidence given at the oral hearing

The applicant stated she was born in some nine years earlier stated in her initial application to the Department and arrived in Australia a year later than she had originally declared. The applicant stated her mother and father still live in Egypt. The applicant stated her father is retired but was employed as a white collar professional and her mother was a health operative. The applicant stated her brother is an engineer. The applicant stated he was given time off every month and would come home to visit the family.

The applicant confirmed she had completed 16 years of education obtained a tertiary degree) and after completing compulsory government service had been employed in a research centre for three years and subsequently in a Corporation.

The Tribunal asked the applicant had she experienced any discrimination obtaining an education because she was a Christian Copt? The applicant claimed while at university Christians faced discrimination, for example Islamic groups would harass them if they talked to male students and the professors didn’t award them high marks to enable them to continue with post graduate studies. The applicant claimed the Islamic groups were spread through out the university and because Christian women didn’t wear the veil they were told they were infidels. The applicant claimed at school Muslim had their religious teachings in the classroom but the Christians had to find themselves any spot in the schoolyard and any Christian lay teacher taught them Christianity.

The applicant claimed she found great difficulty finding employment. The applicant claimed her position in the research centre was obtained through a family friend of her fathers. The applicant claimed it was a menial clerical job that could have been done by a student without university qualifications and she was employed on a casual basis. The applicant claimed she had to accept that job but as someone working in her profession she should have had a position in a bank or within the ministry of finance but she couldn’t get such jobs as they were only given to Muslims. The applicant claimed she couldn’t seek employment in Cairo as in the society and culture of Upper Egypt a girl has to live within her household.

The applicant claimed when she was appointed to the Corporation in her field she was employed on a contract basis and was not given a permanent position so she wasn’t eligible for promotions or an increase in salary.

The applicant claimed she was very active in the local church and was responsible for the children’s activities. The applicant claimed she went to the church most days of the week and attended mass on Friday and Sunday. The applicant claimed when they came out of mass or meetings at the church they were often harassed and called infidels because they wore crucifixes and didn’t cover their heads with the veil.

The Tribunal asked the applicant about her Muslim friend who she had described in her initial application to the Department as a very close and sincere friend. The applicant claimed she met her in the mid 1990s when she came to work at the Corporation. The applicant claimed that she was her friend as they sat in the same office area and did the same work. The applicant claimed she did not speak about her husband and she didn’t ask about her private life. The applicant claimed she knew she had three children but she didn’t ask her about any personal details. The applicant claimed there were other Muslims who worked with her but she was her closest Muslim friend because their work was connected to each other and she was a quiet person who the applicant felt comfortable with. The applicant claimed this friend told her she had cancer and she stopped coming to work. The applicant claimed she went to visit this friend subsequently. The Tribunal asked the applicant why she hadn’t gone to visit the friend with someone from work. The applicant claimed it was convenient for her to go on the particular day she made the visit.

The applicant claimed she had stayed with this friend for two hours when her husband arrived and when they were introduced the applicant claimed she felt uncomfortable because of the way he looked at her. The applicant claimed he had “evil and lustful looks” and she felt frightened and uncomfortable. The applicant also claimed he was bearded but could give no other physical description of the friend’s husband. The applicant claimed because she felt he was evil, she left the house immediately after he arrived at the house. The applicant claimed he accompanied her to the hire car and asked her private questions, for example her father’s name and address.

The applicant claimed two weeks after her visit to this friend, a friend of the afore mentioned friend came to her office. The applicant claimed this person didn’t give her name but told the applicant the applicant’s friend wanted her to be cautious about her husband because he was continually asking questions about her and knew she was a Coptic Christian. The applicant claimed the visitor told her that the applicant’s friend’s husband was a member of The Islamic group and he wanted the applicant to join Islam and marry him.

The Tribunal asked the applicant why she went to the police after this visit and what she expected the police to do. The applicant claimed she told police her friend had worked with her and gave them the friend’s name and address and also told them that her husband had threatened her when he had accompanied her to the hire car by saying “may God lead you to the truthful faith of Islam”. The applicant claimed she also told police that her friend sent a person to caution her that her husband wanted to force her into Islam. The applicant claimed she sought police protection because there was someone who wanted to force her into Islam.

The applicant claimed the police looked at her indifferently and said they did not have enough police to guard everyone who wanted protection. The applicant claimed they took no details from her as to her friend’s address. The Tribunal asked the applicant why they asked her to return to the police station a week later. The applicant claimed a week later a police officer came to her work and asked her to come to the police station when she was told that the friend’s husband had run away leaving his wife and children and the friend denied any knowledge of him. The applicant claimed the police had no concern for her protection but they told the applicant that if the person contacted her she should pretend that she had accepted his suggestion and that she would convert to Islam and they would arrest him. When the Tribunal put to the applicant that it seemed an unlikely thing for the police to suggest she claimed the police in Egypt don’t care about the protection of Christians and they didn’t care what happened to her.

The Tribunal asked the applicant when she started to travel to and from work in taxis. The applicant claimed when she heard at work that her friend’s husband had disappeared with his wife and children her father became concerned and she was frightened. The Tribunal put to the applicant that it thought she would have been pleased to hear of his disappearance. The applicant claimed “we know that when these groups have the intention to take a certain action they take their people and move to another place where they are unknown” and that frightened her. The applicant claimed when she heard that her friend’s husband had disappeared she thought he must be plotting something especially when he had previously threatened her. The applicant claimed it was the style of these groups to move to one place to another and disappear and things would be calm and quiet and then they would attack.

The applicant claimed that she was attacked subsequently on the way home from church. The applicant claimed she was put into a car and blindfolded. The applicant claimed when the blindfold was taken off she found herself at a deserted place in an old dilapidated building with her friend’s husband and another man. The applicant claimed they tied her hands and the friend’s husband called her an infidel and told her he would take revenge against her because she had reported his threats to the police and didn’t convert to Islam. The applicant claimed he told her the only thing that could save her was if she agreed to convert to Islam and then he would marry her.

The Tribunal asked the applicant why she didn’t report the rape to the police. The applicant claimed because it would be a shame, she would be ostracised and her family would kill her. The applicant also claimed she had been to the police before and they hadn’t taken any action. The applicant claimed her mother and father concealed the rape so that no one within the family would know what had happened and she would not be killed. The applicant claimed she remained away from work for one week.

The Tribunal asked the applicant why she started to correspond with her family friend in Australia. The applicant claimed she hoped it would enable her to run away because the Islamic group would not leave her alone and she would be killed by her family. The Tribunal put to the applicant that she had remained living in her village for some months and no harm had come to her. The applicant claimed she was very cautious and never went out alone. The applicant claimed after what happened to her she was in a constant state of fear that she would be killed and she started thinking about leaving Egypt some time earlier. The applicant claimed she obtained her passport the following year and her Australian visa a few months later.

The Tribunal asked the applicant why she delayed leaving Egypt. The applicant claimed she didn’t want to give the impression that she was running away but wanted to give the impression that it was a normal visit and she was going to see a new country and celebrate Christmas. The Tribunal put to the applicant that the fact that she had delayed leaving Egypt indicated she had no real fear of being killed by either the Gama’at Al Islmaiya or her family. The applicant claimed she would have liked to have left earlier but had to be cautious because her brother would have asked why was she in a hurry to leave.

The Tribunal asked the applicant why she sought a renewal of her visitor’s visa rather than applying for a protection visa. The applicant claimed when she first arrived she was psychologically broken and couldn’t talk about what had happened to her.

The Tribunal asked the applicant when she had first met her husband. The applicant claimed he was at the airport with her friend when she arrived in Australia. The applicant claimed three weeks after her arrival in Australia her friend told her that the male person wanted to propose to her. The applicant claimed her friend encouraged her to tell him what had happened to her in Egypt and encouraged her to marry him. The Tribunal asked the applicant why she married someone she didn’t know five weeks after her arrival in Australia when she claimed she was psychologically broken. The applicant claimed she married so soon because he accepted her despite her shame and was prepared to marry her protect her and support her.

The Tribunal asked the applicant why she fears returning to Egypt. The applicant claimed she fears the Islamic group and her family will kill her. The applicant claimed that during her the latest period in her location she was in constant fear that her brother would discover what had happened to her. The applicant claimed during this period although her brother didn’t come home very often, when he did it was difficult to pretend everything was alright. The Tribunal asked the applicant how would her brother discover what had happened to her. The applicant claimed when the Gama’at Al Islamiya knew she would not convert to Islam they would tell her brother.

The Tribunal put to the applicant the independent information that because of the government’s response to the militant groups by the end of 1997 the social and political infrastructure of the Gama’at Al Islamiya had been wiped out. There were no reports of terrorist incidents in 1999 or 2000. The applicant claimed in the area where she lived in Upper Egypt there were many violent events for example the al Kush incident.

The applicant claimed the rape of girls was a common occurrence in Upper Egypt. The Tribunal put to the applicant the independent information which indicates that while there had been some reported cases such incidents were rare. The applicant claimed rapes occurred quite often in upper Egypt but because the rapes were considered shameful they were not reported.

The Tribunal put to the applicant that the violence in al Kush is not representative of the circumstances of Christians throughout Egypt. The applicant claimed Christians are persecuted throughout Egypt and that the Islamic Group exists everywhere in Egypt.

The Tribunal put to the applicant that while The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights stated the incident in al Kush in 2000 was the worst incident of sectarian violence in Egypt for three decade it distinguished this incident from the deliberate targeting of Coptic Christians by Islamic militants. The applicant claimed the information is incorrect and in her location churches were burnt and ransacked. The applicant claimed when the Pope tried to help Christians he was arrested. The Tribunal referred to an article submitted by the applicant’s adviser from al Kiraza Magazine January 2000 in which Pope Shenouda was critical of the authorities in al Kush but not of the authorities throughout Egypt. The applicant claimed the militant groups move from one area to another and they will move from al Kush to another area.

The Tribunal put to the applicant the independent information which indicates that the quality of protection provided to Christian citizens is no different to that provided to Muslim citizens. In the particular case of Upper Egypt the Government is fighting terrorism against the Copts aggressively. The applicant claimed the authorities did not protect her and if they had she would not have been raped. The applicant claimed she didn’t report her rape to the police because when she went to the police they treated the threats that had been made to her with indifference. The applicant claimed if she had reported the rape she would have exposed her shame and loss of honour and would have been killed by her family and the Islamic groups.

The Tribunal put to the applicant the independent information that “many of Egypt's most successful businessmen and celebrities are Copts. They have been described as “the barons of the private sector” and the average income of Egyptian Christians is higher than for Muslims. The Tribunal put to the applicant that the Coptic Church is vibrant; its services are packed, and its once-forlorn desert monasteries bustle with activity. The Tribunal put to the applicant that she was a white collar service operative who was active in her church. The applicant claimed Copts are persecuted and do not lead a comfortable life, their shops are attacked especially in Upper Egypt where the groups have a stronghold. The applicant claimed although she worked as an in her field there were many rights she did not have.

The Tribunal put to the applicant that since leaving Egypt her personal situation had changed in that she was now married with a daughter. The Tribunal put to the applicant that if she returned to Egypt she could live in Cairo where her husband had lived and worked for numerous years. The applicant claimed she could not live in Cairo because the Gama’at Al Islmiya would not leave her alone and would expose her. The applicant claimed according to custom and tradition she could not leave her location but had to live among her family. The applicant claimed if she moved to live in Cairo her family would ask why she had left and this would move her family to kill her. The applicant also claimed her husband had been persecuted in Cairo by the Gama’at Al Islmiya. The applicant claimed if she returned to Egypt she would be killed by the Islamic groups and by her family. The applicant claimed her family would consider her daughter as the fruit of sin and shame.

At the hearing the applicant’s adviser submitted that the traditions and customs in Egypt were very different to those in Australia and as the applicant had been raped she could not return to Egypt. The adviser submitted rape was “nothing” in Australia and doesn’t have the shame it has in Egypt. The adviser submitted the aim of the Gama’at Al Islamiya was to wipe out Christians. The applicant’s adviser submitted the disappearance of her friend’s husband before he raped the applicant indicated premeditated evil. He submitted the applicant’s delay in leaving Egypt was because she was living in difficult circumstances and she had to be careful because of her wider family not just her parents. He submitted her delay in applying for a protection visa was because she didn’t know what to do because of her shame and the renewal of her visa gave kept her mind away from the problem.

Two Coptic priests were witnesses before the Tribunal. The first priest stated he had arrived in Australia in the late 1960s when he was a child and had returned to Egypt for short periods , and again for his ordination. He stated the applicant had reported to the church that she was raped and persecuted in Egypt and he was aware of similar cases of persecution. He stated he believed that if the applicant returned to Egypt she would be persecuted and it was the duty of the church to look after her. He stated he believed this was a genuine case and the church wanted to support the applicant. He referred to the Coptic web site and the fact that the Egyptian government covers up incidents. He stated their own pope can’t speak up about the problem because he is afraid.

The second priest arrived in Australia in the early 1980s and returned to Egypt in the early 1990s to be ordained. He stated if the applicant returned to Egypt she would be in trouble from Muslims and her family but she feared her family more than the Muslims. He stated he felt this case was genuine. He stated the applicant came from an area in the general geographic region of al Kush which is a disturbed area in Egypt.

Subsequently the applicant’s adviser submitted a bundle of thirty five additional reports that he claimed negated the independent information put to the applicant that the activity of the Gama’at Al Islamiya has ended and that the government has succeeded in fighting the terrorists. He submitted the al Kush incident was not an isolated incident but is indicative of the hatred and hostility and discrimination exercised against Christians in all aspects of life in Egypt.

He submitted the applicant’s delay in applying for refugee status was attributed to her trauma and insecurity at being exposed to being killed by the Islamic group or by her wider family. He submitted it was not feasible for the applicant to report her rape to the police as she had informed the police from the beginning and had not been offered protection and it would publish her shame and expose her to the risk of revenge.

He submitted that rape is not only a crime but attached to it is the honour of the family as a whole and as such the raped victim faces not only the shame of the society but the revenge of that shame by any member of the family by killing the raped girl.

He referred to Professor Hathaway’s book “the Law of Refugee Status” which states “ the threat of rape is a sufficient basis to fear persecution” and submitted that rape is a degrading matter and constitutes an attack on the moral integrity of the person. He submitted it is not important that rape in Egypt is a rare crime because the victim of rape is a protected person under the Convention and persons suffering from such acts must be offered protection under the Convention.

He submitted if the applicant were to return to Egypt she will be persecuted, tortured and murdered by militant Muslims or by her own wider family to wash the shame of rape.

He submitted it was not reasonable or feasible for the applicant to leave her father and mother and go and live independently in another area of Egypt. He submitted this would bring the risk of being discovered and killed by militant groups or by her wider family. He submitted the shame attached to her would continue to be carried with her where ever she lived in Egypt.

Subsequently the applicant’s adviser submitted a copy of the applicant’s marriage certificate from the church and a copy of the applicant’s official marriage certificate dated later.

Subsequently the applicant’s adviser submitted the latest report of the International Christian Concerns reported by the Copts daily digest 16 October 2000. It states:

It is reported that conversions from Christianity to Islam are often coerced. There has been a series of reports of Christian girls being abducted and forced to convert to Islam. The International Coptic Federation claims it has documented 218 cases of abduction but it is very difficult to determine the degree of coercion used. In some cases the girl desires to marry a Muslim boy and is willing to convert to do so. The conversion is performed by the girl saying a one sentence confession. Seduction, rape, bribery, threat and violence can also be factors in these cases. The government does little to protect its citizens from such abuses.
Independent information

Gama’at Al Islamiya (variously spelt in different publications)

The Political Handbook of the World: 1995-1996 provides brief background information on Gama’at Al Islamiya (The Islamic Group):

The Islamic Group surfaced in the late 1970’s as the student wing of the Muslim brotherhood subsequently breaking away from that organisation and aligning with al Jihad in seeking the overthrow of the government. Having gained adherents among the poor in the Cairo slums and the villages of southern Egypt, it serves as a loosely knit but highly militant umbrella organisation for as many as three dozen smaller organisations. The government has accused the group of spearheading attacks on security forces, government officials and tourists since early 1992.

The spiritual leader of the Islamic group is Omar Abdel Rahman who is in custody in the United States. Safwat Abd al Ghani viewed as the political leader of the Group is confined to prison in Egypt on charge of illegal weapons possession. Talaat Yasis Hanman the military commander of the group was killed by security forces in April 1994. His intended successor also died in a shoot out with police the following November. Two members of the Group were executed in February 1995 after being convicted of a bomb attack in which a German tourist had been killed while two others were executed in late March for the attempted killing of Nobel laureate Naguig Mahfouz in October 1994 (Political Handbook of the World: 1995-1996, Banks, Day and Muller (Editors), CSA Publications, p.280).

The U S State Department in its publication Patterns of Global terrorism (released April 1999) covering events in 1998 describes Gama’at Al Islamiya as:

Egypt's largest militant group, active since the late 1970s; appears to be loosely organized. Has an external wing with a worldwide presence. Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman is al-Gama'at's pre-eminent spiritual leader, and the group publicly has threatened to retaliate against US interests for his incarceration. Primary goal is to overthrow the Egyptian Government and replace it with an Islamic state.
Activities

Armed attacks against Egyptian security and other government officials, Coptic Christians, and Egyptian opponents of Islamic extremism. Al-Gama'at has launched attacks on tourists in Egypt since 1992, most notably the attack in November 1997 at Luxor that killed 58 foreign tourists. Also claimed responsibility for the attempt in June 1995 to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Location/Area of Operation

Operates mainly in the Al Minya, Asyu't, Qina, and Soha Governorates of southern Egypt. Also appears to have support in Cairo, Alexandria, and other urban locations, particularly among unemployed graduates and students.
The government’s response to the militant groups

The government’s response to the militant threat posed by the Gama’at Al Islamiya and other militant groups committed to violence was swift. An all out war has been declared against the militants. The government consistently orders the storming of militant hideouts and detains militant suspects by conducting arbitrary sweeps, especially in areas of Upper Egypt. Anybody suspected of having anything to do with the militant organisations is arrested. The government considers safer to detain an innocent who might be suspected of being associated with a militant group and subsequently release him, than to give the suspect the benefit of the doubt. Amnesty International draws a depressing picture: For many years arbitrary detention on a massive scale, permitted under state of emergency legislation, has been a major feature of human rights in Egypt. The continuing practice of arbitrary detention affects thousands of individuals every year. The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights( EOHR) estimates that there are approximately 14,000 political detainees in Egypt at any one time. The Middle East Times reports that 29,000 “extremists” now inhabit Egypt’s prisons. In May 1993 Amnesty International said the human rights situation in Egypt was characterised by mass arbitrary arrests, torture, long term administrative detention, unfair military trials before military courts resulting in death sentences and possible extrajudicial executions. The government has adopted sweeping measures often inconsistent with international human rights standards to confront Islamic militant groups, some of whom have committed deliberate and arbitrary killings (Sackur, Z. 1994, Egypt: Islamic Fundamentalist Organizations: the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gama'a Al-Islamiya (The Islamic Group) March 1994), a WRITENET Issue Paper, March. [UNHCR REFWORLD Country Information database]).
The effect of the government’s response

Egyptian officials note that the militants' campaign of violence, from the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat to the 1997 massacre of dozens of tourists in Luxor, appears to be waning. Interior Minister Habib Adly said in an interview that the organizations largely behind the violence, The Islamic Group and Islamic Jihad, have "lost their public base, lost their unity, lost a lot of their sources of finance."

The official confidence results in part from the apparent success of tough security measures, strict emergency laws, sweeping arrests, military court trials and a heavy police presence, that have been criticized by human rights advocates but defended by the government as justified.

Despite controversy over the methods, secular analysts, human rights groups and Islamic activists agree that, at least for now, Egypt seems to have broken the militants armed assault and reduced their pool of recruits through stricter control of mosques and the people who preach in them.

In addition, the leadership and governing council of the largest militant organization, the Islamic Group, announced this spring that it is giving up armed struggle. After years of fighting and an estimated 1,200 deaths on both sides, the government seems as strong as ever, the public is alienated, and the radical leaders are largely behind bars, the group said. Armed struggle "proved its failure," said Montasser Zayat, one of the group's chief defense attorneys. The Luxor assault in 1997 was the last major attack (Schneider, H. 1999, 'Egypt: Peace on the Nile? Egypt appears near victory in battle with militants', Reuter Post, 24 June. [CISNET CX35968]).

According to Usher, Graham, 1998, >Background to a massacre=, Middle East International, 24 April, pp 17-18:

The government’s response to Gama’at al-Islamiya after 1992 was confrontational, aiming at its total eradication as a military, political and social force. In its Cairo strongholds the Jama’at social networks were smashed, its street mosques outlawed and its activists rounded up. Most commentators agree that by the end of 1997 the social and political infrastructure of the Gama’at Al Islamiya had been wiped out with its leadership dead imprisoned or exiled to Europe, Afghanistan or the hills or Upper Egypt.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000, December, New York pp345-351 states:

“The state's battle with armed militants inside Egypt appeared to be drawing to a close, although continuing rights abuses marred some otherwise positive developments. On March 25, the clandestine Islamic Group issued a statement announcing that all of its cadres "inside and outside" the country would bring "armed operations" to a halt. In April, some 1,000 to 1,200 known or suspected Islamic Group members were reportedly released from prison, bringing to about 6,000 the number set free under Interior Minister Habib el-Adli, who assumed his post in November 1997”.
Amnesty International Egypt - Human rights abuses by armed groups, AI Index:MDE12/22/98, September 1998 states:

Political violence has been one of the main characteristics of Egyptian life in recent years. The cycle of violence pitting the security forces against armed Islamist groups, especially in Upper Egypt since the beginning of 1992 has left 1300 people dead. The victims have included civilians as well as armed Islamists and members of the security forces.

The two main Islamist groups in the country which use violence are the al Gihad and the Gama’at Al Islmiya . Both groups seek an Islamic state based on Sharia law and both had recourse to violence as a means to achieve this goal. Gama’at Al Islamiya is active mainly n Upper Egypt its followers are young frequently university educated originating mostly from poor areas especially in Upper Egypt and in Cairo. It has targeted Coptic Christians tourists policeman and officers from the SSI. The group has been responsible for grave human rights abuses of concern to amnesty International. Scores of civilians including Coptic Christians and foreign tourists were deliberately killed in situations where the victims unarmed were apparently targeted because of their actual or supposed religious beliefs or country of origin. Since the Luxor massacre in November 1997 no killings of this magnitude have been perpetrated. Arrests of its members continue to take place. Thousands of members and sympathisers of both groups have been detained without charge or trial some for as long as eight years. Others are serving long term prison sentences passed after unfair trials.

Recent Developments

Despite skirmishes between members of Al Gama’at Al Islamiya and the security forces in some villages from time to time political violence in the country appears to have diminished considerably. Al Gama’at Al Islamiya issued a statement in February 1998 reiterating its willingness to stop all acts of violence. Since January 1998 the Ministry of the interior is reported to have released at least 2,000 Islamist detainees who had been held without charge or trials and who according to the authorities have “repented”. Also over the last few months no trials of civilians before military courts have taken place.
The BBC Monitoring Service noted in 1999 that Gama’at Al-Islamiya appeared to be seeking some rapprochement with Egyptian authorities:

`Al-Sharq al-Awsat' has learnt that fundamentalist activists are preparing to submit to the Egyptian [People's Assembly] Parties' Committee an application to establish a new party to be called the Shari'ah Party... This is the third attempt by fundamentalists to establish a legal political party in Egypt. The first two attempts ended in failure. The first one was made by Abu al-Ula Madi, who split from the Muslim Brotherhood and submitted two successive applications to establish the Wasat [Centre] Party. But the Parties' Committee and the Egyptian courts refused to sanction its establishment. The second attempt was made by the group of [Jamal] Sultan, the legal agent and founder of the Social Reform Party that he intends to announce soon.

But Mamduh Isma'il's step is remarkable in that it comes from the core of the Gama'at al-Islamiya and not from other fundamentalist currents. It is known that there has been some sort of rapprochement between the Gama'at al-Islamiya and the state during the past few months.

It is also recalled that the Parties' Committee has never approved the establishment of any party. All Egyptian opposition parties, apart from the Labour and the National Progressive Unionist Grouping, obtained their legitimacy from the Egyptian courts(BBC Monitoring Service of 19 August 1999, CISNET Document CX37171).

The US Department of State Country Report 2000 states

There are several security services in the Ministry of Interior, two of which are involved primarily in combating terrorism: The State Security Investigations Sector (SSIS), which conducts investigations and interrogates detainees; and the Central Security Force (CSF), which enforces curfews and bans on public demonstrations, and conducts paramilitary operations against terrorists. The use of violence by security forces in the campaign against suspected terrorists appeared more limited than in previous years.

The Emergency Law, which has been in effect since 1981, continues to restrict many basic rights. The security forces continued to arrest and detain suspected members of terrorist groups. In fighting the terrorists, the security forces continued to mistreat and torture prisoners, and occasionally engage in mass arrests.

In contrast to the previous year, and for the first time in 10 years, there were no reports of terrorist incidents.

In antiterrorist campaigns, security forces killed four members of the “Islamic Group of Egypt” (IG), including Farid Salim Abdel Qader Kidwani, who was the leader of the IG's military wing. The security forces reportedly raided an IG hideout in Giza on September 7. The four IG members were killed in an exchange of gunfire

In April the Ministry of Interior reported that it had released 1,200 political detainees described as "repentant extremists”. The release brought the total number of detainees released in the past 2 years to more than 6,000.

Forced conversion of Coptic girls to Islam

"There were reports of forced conversions of Coptic girls to Islam. Reports of such cases are disputed and often include inflammatory allegations and categorical denials of kidnapping and rape. Observers, including human rights groups, find it extremely difficult to determine whether compulsion was used, as most cases involve a Coptic girl who converts to Islam when she marries a Muslim boy. According to the Government, in such cases the girl must meet with her family, with her priest, and with the head of her church before she is allowed to convert. However, there are credible reports of government harassment of Christian families that attempt to regain custody of their daughters, and of the failure of the authorities to uphold the law (which states that a marriage of a girl under the age of 16 is prohibited, and between the ages of 16 and 21 is illegal, without the approval and presence of her guardian) in cases of marriage between an underage Christian girl and a Muslim boy." (The United States Department of State Annual Report on religious freedom for 1999, CX37657).

According to Freedom House, there are reliable reports of young Christian girls having been manipulated or coerced into conversion and marriage to Muslim boys, and in "several instances local police have been complicit in the coercive conversion of Coptic girls" (supra, pp12,13), However, Freedom House also states that many of the stories of the abduction of Coptic girls by Muslims are probably, in fact, cases of elopement where the family is seeking to save face by claiming that coercion was involved (Egypt’s endangered Christians, Centre for Religious Freedom June 1999).

A report prepared by Jubilee Campaign, a UK based "international Christian religious liberty pressure group" February 1999 states:

In a conservative society like Egypt, rape is seen as extremely shameful for the victim and her family and it is practically impossible to find men willing to marry women who have been raped. For this reason, if a woman is raped by a man ins Egypt, she would come under much pressure to marry the man, as her only chance of ever getting married and to avoid bringing shame to her family.

Jubilee campaign has received a number of reliable reports in the past concerning the use of rape to convert Christian girls to Islam. However the use of rape for the purposes of conversion is not necessarily very extensive an should be seen as just one of the methods used by Islamic extremists to pressure Christians to become Muslims.

Other methods used to pressure Christians include offering financial incentives to convert and getting Muslim men to try and win the hearts of Christian girls. Jubilee Campaign acknowledges that not all relationships of this kind are planned for religious motives and that there are some genuine love relationships between Muslim men and Christian women in Egypt.

The use of financial incentives and relationships are the two most commonly reported methos used by Islamic extremists to convert people from Christian backgrounds to Islam. There are large numbers of poor Copts who are vulnerable to financial pressure to convert. ("Muslim Extremists Pressure Egyptian Christians to Convert to Islam", Jubilee Campaign press release 23 February 1999).

In a debate by the House of Commons on 14 June 2000 Mr Edward Leigh stated:

There are reported cases of the use of rape as a means of forced conversion. Admittedly those events are rare and, of course abhorrent and intolerable, but they have taken place.
The al Kush incident

Two young Christians were killed in the largely Coptic village of Al Kush (variously spelt) in Sohag governorate Upper Egypt on 14 August 1998.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and other local human rights groups reported that in the course of an investigation in August and September 1998 into the murder of the two Copts, the police detained hundreds of citizens, including relatives of suspects, women, and children. Local observers reported that dozens of these detainees were subjected to torture and mistreatment. All torture victims appear to have been Christian, but human rights activists note that Muslims were also detained and mistreated, if not tortured, during the investigation. There were credible reports that in the course of the investigation the police disparaged the faith of the Christian detainees. Police abuse of detainees is a general problem in Egypt regardless of the detainees' religious beliefs. It is still unclear whether religion was a factor in the individual officers' actions. Some advocacy groups believe that religion was a factor, but most human rights and Christian activists in Egypt do not.

In September 1998, 15 residents of al-Kush filed a complaint with the public prosecutor in Sohag citing unlawful detention, brutality, and torture by four police officers in al-Kush. In October 1998, the public prosecutor charged local clergymen Bishop Wisa and Arch-Priest Antonius with witness tampering after they publicly protested the police conduct. They were questioned and released after each paid bail. On December 1, 1998, a state security prosecutor charged the secretary general of the EOHR, Hafez Abu Se'da, with accepting foreign money and publishing false information with the intent to harm national interests. The charges were based on a report critical of the Sohag incident published by the EOHR on September 28, 1998. Abu Se'da was detained for 6 days and then released on bail. A state security prosecutor also levied the same charges against EOHR attorney Mustafa Zidane on December 9, 1998. Zidane is the author of the EOHR report on the Sohag incident. He was not detained but was required to pay bail. The charges raised against Bishop Wisa, Arch-Priest Antonius, Abu Se'da, and Zidane have not been dropped. In May 1999, the public prosecutor in Sohag announced that the medical evidence did not support the allegations of police torture and mistreatment of suspects during the Sohag incident, and dismissed the charges against the police officers. There was no evidence to substantiate a report that the Government compensated the four officers accused of torture and mistreatment of al-Kush residents, and the Minister of Interior denied the report. The officers were transferred during the investigation and have not been reassigned to al-Kush. There were no means of independently verifying the conclusions of the public prosecutor, and there remain some discrepancies between the official and unofficial versions of events. As of late June, there were indications that the Government was taking action to address these discrepancies. (The United Sates Department of State Annual Report on religious freedom for 1999, CX37657)

The Christian Solidarity Worldwide (1999) states that it is "widely believed" that the filing of charges against Bishop Wissa and two other Coptic priests and the detention and filing of charges against Mr Hafez Abu Seada, a leading human rights activist and Secretary General of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), are used by the authorities as a "deterrent to all those considering advocacy on behalf of the victims" Christian Solidarity Worldwide 1999, 'Egypt: Clergymen & Human Rights Activists Under Fire', January, CX34807).

In a statement made by the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Christians, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, indicated that the killing of two Christians in El Kosheh was a "normal crime" and has no relation to the issue of national unity. It is claimed however, that the police exceeded their limits in the course of investigating the crime and that the foreign media exaggerated their reports "in a way which might damage the reputation of Egypt" (Statement from His Holiness Pope Shenouda III concerning the happenings in the village of El Kosheh, 3 February CX33495).

A second incident took place in al Kush in January 2000, following a dispute between a Christian shopkeeper and a Muslim customer.

Up to 59 Muslims and Christians including Coptic priest, Father Gabriel Abdel-Maseeh, are wanted for provoking violence, murder and arson. There have been 21 arrests. Father Maseeh has denied reports that some witnesses said they had seen him randomly open fire at neighbours during the clashes.

The Egyptian government has allocated funds to rebuild gutted shops and houses in the town and vowed to severely punish those responsible( Egypt: Kush clashed in shock after sectarian violence, Reuters business Briefing 17 January 2000, CX39755).

According the DFAT there have been no further reports of violence. The government is continuing its investigations. On 15 January the State Security prosecutor ordered the arrest of a further 59 Muslims and Christians. This raised the total of those detained for investigation to over 100. On 11 March the prosecutor announced he had indicted 136 people (98 Muslims and 38 Christians) in relation to the violence.

Bishop Marcos who visited al Kush at the request of Pope Shenouda is reported as saying that sectarian tension rather than terrorism had led to the clashes.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights stated the al Kush was the worst incident of sectarian violence in Egypt for three decades. It distinguished this incident from the earlier al Kush incident which is said did not have a sectarian dimension. It also distinguished the incident from the deliberate targeting of Coptic Christians by Islamic militants. The organisation blamed the weak performance of security forces and the availability of firearms for the escalation of violence.

The government announced it would give compensation to the families of those killed and injured and to those whose shops had been destroyed. (DFAT CIR no 89/00 CX41619).

Treatment of Coptic Christians

The United States Department of State Annual Report on religious freedom for 1999, CX37657, states:

The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government places clear restrictions on this right. Under the Constitution, Islam is the official state religion and primary source of legislation. Accordingly, religious practices that conflict with Islamic law are prohibited. However, for the most part, members of the non-Muslim minority worship without harassment.

An 1856 Ottoman decree still in force requires non-Muslims to obtain what is now a presidential decree to build a place of worship. The Ottoman decree also requires the President to approve permits for the repair of church facilities. In response to strong criticism of the decree, President Mubarak in January 1998 delegated to governors the authority to approve permits for the repair of church facilities. Despite this action, the approval process for church construction and repair remains time consuming and insufficiently responsive to the wishes of the Christian community. Although President Mubarak has approved all requests for permits presented to him (reportedly a total of more than 230 during his 18-year tenure), Christians maintain that the Interior Ministry delays--in some instances indefinitely--submission to the President of their requests. They also maintain that security forces have blocked them from utilizing permits that have been issued.

During the 1990's, the Government increased the number of building permits issued to Christian communities to an average of more than 20 per year, compared with an average of 5 permits issued annually in the 1980's.

Government discriminatory practices include: Suspected statistical under-representation of the size of the Christian population; omission of the Coptic Era of Egyptian history in the school curriculum; and negligible media coverage of Christian subjects. There are no Copts serving as deans or university presidents, no Coptic governors, and no Copts in the upper ranks of the military or police.

There was a trend toward improvement in certain aspects of the respect and protection of the right to religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Besides increasing the approval rate for church repair, in January 1999, the Government formed a committee of academics to revise the history curriculum in the primary and secondary schools. A primary objective of the committee is to reintroduce into the curriculum the Coptic and Byzantine periods of Egyptian history. In a separate initiative, the Ministry of Education rescheduled exams to ensure that they did not conflict with Christian holidays. Government-owned television and radio devoted significantly more programming time to Christian issues and, for the first time in decades, offered a live broadcast of the Christmas and Easter celebrations. The media did not broadcast any discriminatory programs. Government newspapers provided more editorial space to Christian themes and authors than in past years. The Ministry of Culture sponsored several events devoted to Coptic issues, including a seminar on the nationalist role of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Ministry of Tourism supported development of sites that, according to tradition, were visited by the Holy Family during their sojourn in Egypt. The first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, has endorsed the development of reading materials that advocate tolerance. These materials are distributed by projects under her patronage that promote literacy and educational opportunities for girls. In September 1998 in Cairo, and in May 1999 in the southern city of Assiyut, the Binational Fulbright Commission conducted workshops on empathy and tolerance.

During the past two decades, the Islamic Group and other terrorist groups that seek the overthrow of the Government have committed violent assaults, including assaults against Christian targets. During 1998 extremists were responsible for targeting and killing eight Christian Egyptians in the governorate of Minya. There were no reported targeted killings of Christians by extremists during the first 6 months of 1999. Government, Islamic, and community leaders have criticized the attacks against Christians. The Government remains fully engaged in efforts to arrest and convict these extremists. However, some Christians allege that the Government is lax in protecting Christian lives and property.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided the following information in relation to the risk to Christian citizens of violence from militant Islamic groups:

Generally speaking Christians in Egypt do not face any greater threat of violence from Islamic fundamentalists than do Muslim citizens. An exception applies to upper Egypt which is the site of ongoing violence between Muslim extremists and security forces. Here Muslim terrorists have on occasions targeted Christians because of their religious beliefs but also for money or land or in the pursuit of the vendettas that often underpin violent activity in upper Egypt.

Christians are much safer in the Delta region, although there have been isolated incidents of violence for example in February 1996 in Sharqiya Governorate in the Delta, a church and several houses were damaged following attacks by local villagers. A link with militant organisations has not been established. There are no recent reports of Islamic militant groups attacking Copts in this part of Egypt.

Generally speaking the quality of protection provided to Christian citizens in Egypt wherever they reside is no different to that provided to Muslim citizens. In the particular case of Upper Egypt the government is fighting terrorism against the Copts aggressively. (Country Information Report no 849/96, September 1996, CX19741)

An article from The Economist (1998) acknowledges that Egyptian Christians have some legitimate grievances but states:

“many of Egypt's most successful businessmen and celebrities are Copts. The Coptic Church is vibrant; its services are packed, and once-forlorn desert monasteries bustle with activity. Moreover, the government has been keen to project a conciliatory image. Church lands seized during the land reform 40 years ago have just been returned. ('Copts in Egypt. The danger of foreign meddling', 1998, The Economist, 23 May, p.42, r:\research\nexis\egy13680.nex.doc).

Mortimer (1999) states that Christians appear to be "doing well" in Egypt. He also states that they have no "qualms about wearing crucifixes in public", that they "socialize freely with members of the Islamic majority" and that Coptic entrepreneurs "are among the barons of the private sector” ( Mortimer, J. 1999, 'Egypt Christians Face Discrimination', Associated Press, 20 June. r:\research\nexis\egy13680.nex.doc).

Warren (1998) reports of an active and vibrant Coptic Church in Egypt and states that "Copts do not consider themselves to be a minority group despite representing only six per cent of the population, and react with annoyance when well-meaning human rights groups cast them in this role." Warren also states that native Coptic Christians are found in all levels of society - amongst the richest and the poorest. However, the average income of Egyptian Christians is higher than for Muslims. Warren suggests that while numbering only about 3.8 million in a population of 61.5 million, Egyptian Copts own between a quarter to a third of the total private assets of the country. Christians are amongst the largest landowners and leading bankers, financiers and insurers. They "dominate" major industries such as textiles and pharmaceuticals. Warren says that a Christian may live for years in "perfect harmony with Muslim neighbours; but sooner or later he or she is likely to suffer some petty annoyance or humiliation." Warren further states that in the past years, the government "acted decisively to stop hate campaigns against Christians in the radical Islamic media, and nuisance petitions against Christians brought by Islamist lawyers in the courts." Warren, D. 1998, 'With Christ in Egypt: A spiritual journey among the Copts', The Ottawa Citizen, 11 January r:\research\nexis\egy13680.nex.doc).

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has stated:

“The Egyptian government generally protects Copts constitutional rights. While Copts do suffer from some degree of discrimination (eg Copts are not well represented in parliament, key ministries) they are not persecuted by virtue of being Christian” (Egypt: Treatment of Copts DFAT 12 November 1998, CX32824).

FINDINGS AND REASONS

The applicant states she is a citizen of Egypt. The applicant travelled to Australia on an Egyptian passport. Accordingly, I have assessed the applicant's claims against Egypt as her country of nationality.

In assessing the applicant’s Convention claims, I am required to determine whether her fear is well founded and whether the treatment she fears amounts to persecution for a Convention reason.

When determining whether an applicant is entitled to protection in Australia the Tribunal must first make findings of fact on the claims he has made. This may involve an assessment of the credibility of the applicant. When assessing credibility, the Tribunal must be sensitive to the difficulties often faced by asylum seekers and should give the benefit of the doubt to those who are generally credible, but unable to substantiate all of their claims. However, a decision-maker is not required to accept uncritically any and all allegations made by an applicant, nor is it necessary to have rebutting evidence available to it before it can find that a particular factual assertion by an applicant has not been made out, nor to accept claims which are inconsistent with the independent evidence regarding the situation in the applicant's country of nationality. See Randhawa v MILGEA [1994] FCA 1253; (1994) 52 FCR 437 at 451, per Beaumont J; Selvadurai v MIEA & Anor [1994] FCA 1105; (1994) 34 ALD 347 at 348 per Heerey J. See also Shu Min Pan v MIMA, [1997] 13 FCA (23 January 1997) per Nicholson J and Chan per McHugh J at 428. If the Tribunal is unable to make confident findings in relation to a particular claim made by an applicant, it must proceed to assess this claim on the basis that it might possibly be true.

The applicant claims she is a Coptic Christian. The applicant claims she was raped by a “hidden member” of the Gama’at al Islamaiya in the late 1990s. The applicant fears returning to Egypt because she will be killed by the Gama’at al Islamiya or by her family because rape is considered a serious shame to the family.

The Tribunal had difficulty with various aspects of the applicant’s story.

In her initial application to the Department the applicant claimed she had a close and sincere Muslim friend, whom she had met through her workplace. However at the hearing the applicant claimed this friend was her close friend because they sat in the same office area and did the same work. Yet despite working in the same area for two years the applicant had no knowledge of any private details of her friend’s life. The applicant claimed this friend did not speak about her husband and she didn’t ask about her private life.

The applicant claimed when the friend stopped coming to work because she had cancer she went on her own to visit her friend at her home in a village close to her own location. A May 1994 report by Jubilee a UK based international Christian religious liberty pressure group stated that the raping of teenage Christian girls as a way of forcing them to convert to Islam had led to a change in lifestyle among Christians in Upper Egypt. In particular when girls are allowed out of the house they are usually accompanied by a male member of the family. It seems to the Tribunal unusual that if as the applicant claimed at the hearing that the rape of Christian women was common in Upper Egypt that she would travel alone to visit the friend especially when she knew no personal details about her.

The applicant claimed she had lived a peaceful life in Upper Egypt until she was raped, yet Amnesty International reports that between May 1992 and the end of 1997 scores of Coptic Christians were deliberately and arbitrarily killed by members of the Gama’at Islamiya and that most of the killings took place in Upper Egypt. The applicant also later in the hearing claimed there were many violent events in the area where she lived. Given this information the Tribunal finds it even more unusual that the applicant would travel alone to visit her friend. When the Tribunal asked her why she didn’t visit the friend with friends from work the applicant claimed it suited her to visit that particular day.

The applicant claims a week after her visit to her friend a lady came to her office. The applicant claimed this lady didn’t give her name but told her that the friend wanted her to be cautious because her husband was a hidden member of the Gama’at Al Islamiya and he wanted the applicant to join Islam and marry him. The Tribunal finds it implausible that the wife of a hidden member of a terrorist group would send a friend to reveal her husband’s membership of the group and reveal his plans to rape the applicant and force her into Islam.

The applicant claimed following this warning she went to the police seeking personal protection. When the Tribunal asked the applicant why she had sought police protection following this warning from an unnamed person she claimed the friend’s husband had threatened her when he had accompanied her to the hire car stating “may god lead you to the truthful faith of Islam’. The Tribunal has great difficulty accepting that the statement allegedly made by the friend’s husband could in any way be construed as a threat.

Although the applicant claimed the police treated her request for protection indifferently she claimed a week later they came to her office and asked her to go the police station where they told her that the friend’s husband had run away and suggested to her that if this husband contacted her she should pretend she had embraced Islam and they would arrest him. The Tribunal finds it implausible firstly that the police would go to her friend’s house when the applicant claimed they had treated her request for protection indifferently and had told her they didn’t have enough police to provide personal protection. The Tribunal finds it implausible that they would suggest to the applicant that she should embrace Islam so they could arrest the husband given the independent information that the police have the power under the Emergency Law to arrest and detain suspected members of terrorist groups. A power which Amnesty International has suggested they have used excessively.

When asked by the Tribunal to describe the husband the applicant stated he had “evil and lustful” looks and that she felt uncomfortable and frightened by his presence not only because of the look in his eyes but because he was also bearded. The applicant could not provide any other physical description of this husband. The applicant claimed when she heard that this s husband had disappeared with his wife she was frightened because “we know when these groups have an intention to take a certain action they move to another place”. The applicant claimed when she head he had left the village with his wife she thought he must be plotting something especially as he had threatened her. The applicant’s adviser submitted at the hearing that this husband’ s disappearance was “premeditated evil”. The Tribunal found the applicant’s description of him and the conclusions that the applicant and her adviser drew from his disappearance were designed to present an image of an evil man or a stereotype of a “hidden member of a terrorist group” and were far fetched and implausible.

The independent information set out on p21 of this decision indicates that there have been reports of forced conversions of Coptic girls to Islam. While the applicant suggests that such incidents were common in Upper Egypt the independent information indicates that such incidents are rare. In particular the reports from Jubilee although accepting that Coptic Christians in general are persecuted acknowledges that while there are reports of rape being used to convert girls to Islam that this is “not necessarily very extensive”. The February 1999 report states that there are other methods used to pressure people to convert the two most common being financial incentives and relationships. However it acknowledges that not all relationships are planned for religious motives and that there are some genuine love relationships between Muslim men and Christian women in Egypt. The independent information also indicates that many reported stories of abduction of Coptic girls are in fact cases of elopement where the family is seeking to save face by claiming that coercion is involved.

The cases reported by Jubilee in its May 1994 report indicate that the victims targeted by Islamist extremists were all are young teenage girls all of whom were detained for some time by the extremists to apply pressure on them to convert to Islam.

At the hearing the applicant claimed she was raped by her friend’s husband as an act of revenge because she had reported his threats to police and because she hadn’t converted to Islam. The applicant claimed he told her she could be saved by converting to Islam and then he would marry her. The applicant’s story of rape differs from the independent reports in that she was not a young girl when she claimed she was raped but was in fact thirty years old and she was returned to her home immediately following the rape rather than detained and pressured to convert.

Given the independent information that the use of rape to obtain forced conversions is rare, the fact that the applicant does not fit the profile of the victims targeted by the extremists and given the implausibility of parts of her story the Tribunal finds that the applicant’s story that she has been raped by a member of the Gama’at Al Islamiya has been fabricated.

The applicant returned to work a week after she was raped and remained living and working in her location until the late 1990s. The applicant provided no evidence in her initial application to the Department or at the hearing that she was of any interest to the Gama’at Islamiya during this time.

The applicant obtained her passport and her visitor’s visa but did not leave Egypt until some months later. The applicant claimed she delayed leaving Egypt because she didn’t want to give any indication to her family or the Gama’at Al Islamiya that she was running away. The Tribunal finds that explanation implausible as the applicant could have left Egypt when she obtained her visa five months after the alleged rape. The Tribunal finds the applicant’s delay in leaving Egypt further indicates that her claim that she was raped by the Gama’at Al Islamiya has been fabricated.

The applicant arrived in Australia, renewed her visitor’s visa and did not apply for a protection visa until some months later. The applicant claimed her delay in applying for protection was because she was psychologically broken and couldn’t talk about what had happened to her. The Tribunal does not accept this explanation given that the applicant’s evidence was that she revealed to her male friend what had happened to her after only being in Australia for about three weeks. The Tribunal believes that if the applicant had a genuine subjective fear of persecution she would have sought Australia’s protection more expeditiously. The applicant’s failure to do so further indicates to the Tribunal that her claim that she was raped by the Gama’at Al Islamiya has been fabricated.

At the hearing and in a letter to the Tribunal two orthodox priests who have known the applicant since her arrival in Australia stated that the applicant was an active and valued member of the church community. They stated the applicant had informed them that she had been raped and that they were aware of similar cases. They stated the applicant came from an area where there was constant persecution of Coptic Christians by killings, torture and rape and she would be persecuted if she returned to Egypt from the fundamentalists and from her family. They both stated that the church wanted to support the applicant and that they believed this was a genuine case. However their view as to the genuineness of the applicant’s claims seemed to be based on the fact that they were aware of similar cases where women have been raped, forced to convert and forced to marry Muslim men and they wanted to support a valued church member. The Tribunal accepts that the two priests would want to support and active and valued member of their congregation. However their opinion of the situation in Egypt for Copts was not based on any personal knowledge. The first priest arrived in Australia in the late 1960s as a child, the second priest in the early 1980s and both have only returned to Egypt for very short periods of time. The first priest referred the Tribunal to the Coptic web site which asserts that persecution against Christians occurs in Egypt. While the Tribunal accepts that the priests may be aware of cases where rape has been used as a means of forced conversion, the fact that there have been such cases is not of itself sufficient to indicate that the applicant’s story was credible.

However even if the Tribunal accepted the applicant had been raped by a member of the Gamma’at Islamiya the Tribunal has to consider whether she would face a real chance of persecution if she returns to Egypt.

The applicant’s adviser in his submission to the Tribunal stated that the victim of rape is a protected person under the Convention and person suffering from such acts must be offered protection under the Convention. While the Tribunal accepts that rape in any country is intolerable, abhorrent and degrading the Tribunal does not accept that the fact that the applicant has been raped means that she must be offered protection under the Convention.

The independent information evidence indicates that since the applicant has left Egypt there have been significant changes in the strength and influence of the Gama’at Al Islamiya, the group she fears.

The Amnesty International September 1998 Report investigated the human rights abuses committed by the Gama’at Al Islamiya and al Jihad. It stated both groups seek an Islamic state based on Sharia law and have had recourse to violence as a means to achieve this goal. It stated the Gama’at Al Islamiya group targeted Coptic Christians, tourists, policeman and officers from the SSI and between May 1992 and the end of 1997 scores of Coptic Christians were deliberately killed by members of the Gama’at Al Islamiya. Most of the killings took place in Upper Egypt. The Tribunal notes that the report does not refer to the targeting of single girls for conversion.

The independent evidence indicates that the government’s response to the militant threat posed by the Gama’at al Islamiya and other militant groups committed to violence was swift and harsh and an all out war was declared against the militants. In May 1993 Amnesty International reported the government had adopted sweeping measures to confront Islamic groups in Egypt. The human rights situation in Egypt was characterised by mass arbitrary arrests, torture, long term administrative detention, unfair military trials before military courts, resulting in death sentences and possible extrajudicial executions. In the name of fighting terrorism the security forces in Egypt have committed gross human rights violations.

The effect of the government’s response has been that the Egyptian government seems to have broken the militants armed assault. The last major attack by the Gama’at Al Islamiya was in November 1997. The independent information indicates that at the end of 1997 the social and political infrastructure of the Gama’at Al Islamiya was wiped out. The independent evidence also indicates that the Gama’at Al Islamiya has renounced violence and made some rapprochement with the Egyptian authorities. There were no reports of terrorist incidents against Christians by this group in 1999 or 2000.

Given the above independent information that the Gama’at Al Islamiya has renounced violence the Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that the applicant would face a real chance of being persecuted by Gama’at Al Islamiya if she returns to Egypt.

In his submission to the Tribunal the applicant’s adviser submitted the incidents in al Kush in 2000 cannot be isolated from the feelings of hatred and hostility against Christians throughout Egypt. He also submitted that the violence in al Kush indicates that the Egyptian government has not succeeded in fighting the terrorists.

The Tribunal accepts the independent information which indicates that the sectarian violence in al Kush in January 2000 was the worst incident of sectarian violence in Egypt in three decades. The Egyptian Organisation for Human rights (EHOR) has blamed the weak performance of security forces and the availability of firearms for the escalation of violence. In al Kiraza magazine dated 21 January 2000 Pope Shenouda also stated local security forces failed to control the situation. However EHOR distinguished the acts in al Kush from the deliberate targeting of Coptic Christians by Islamic militants in the last decade. The Tribunal does not accept the submission by the applicant’s adviser that the incidents in al Kush indicate that the Egyptian government has not succeeded in fighting the terrorists.

The Tribunal could also find no independent information to indicate that the sectarian violence in al Kush has been replicated in any other areas of Egypt. The applicant has lived in Upper Egypt since the late 1960s and despite living there at the time when the Gama’at islamiya was most active in this area provided no evidence that she had experienced any incidents of sectarian violence while living in Egypt. The Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that the events in al Kush are indicative of the circumstances of Coptic Christians throughout Egypt. The Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that the applicant faces a real chance of suffering from sectarian violence if she returns to Egypt.

Since the applicant has left Egypt not only has the Gama’at Al Islamiya shown their willingness to stop all acts of violence, the applicant’s own circumstances have also changed. Since arriving in Australia she has married and has a daughter. The fact she is now married would make her of no interest to Muslim extremists who have on rare occasions raped young single Christian girls as a way of forcing them to convert to Islam. The Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that the applicant would face a real chance of being persecuted if she returns to Egypt.

The applicant claimed when she went to the police to report that her friend’s husband may rape her to force her into Islam they did not provide her with protection. The applicant could not provide the police with the name of the person who told her that this husband was a member of a terrorist group. The applicant claimed she was threatened by this husband but the threat consisted of the statement “may god lead you to the truthful faith of Islam”. The Tribunal finds the failure of police to provide personal protection to the applicant against potential assault in these circumstances does not amount to a failure of state protection. The Tribunal accepts the independent information set out on p25 of this decision that the quality of protection provided to Christian citizens of Egypt is no different to that provided to Muslim citizens and in Upper Egypt the government has fought terrorism against the Copts aggressively. The Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that the Egyptian authorities have tolerated religious violence or failed to protect members of the Christian communities against attacks by militant Islamic groups. The Tribunal finds that if the applicant returned to Egypt she would be able to access protection from the Egyptian authorities.

The applicant claims she fears returning to Egypt because her family (her brother or any of her wider family) will kill her if they discover she has been raped. The Tribunal accepts the independent information that in a conservative society such as Egypt, rape is seen as extremely shameful for the victim and her family and it is practically impossible to find men willing to marry women who have been raped. It is for this reason that a Christian woman raped by a Muslim man comes under pressure to marry that man as it is not only her only chance of ever getting married but it also avoids shame to her family. An unmarried woman found not to be a virgin risks death at the hands of her family or at the least ostracism.

However the Tribunal has a number of difficulties with the applicant’s claim.

The applicant lived and worked in Egypt for nine months after the alleged rape. During this time the applicant claimed her mother and father, the only family members who know about the alleged rape, concealed the rape from her brother and the wider family in order to protect the applicant from acts of revenge while the applicant was living in Egypt. The applicant also stated the reason she and her family did not report the rape to the police was because it would publish her shame and expose her to the risk of revenge. The applicant claimed during this period she lived in constant fear that her brother would discover she had been raped. However the applicant’s brother works in another region and the applicant claimed he did not come home very often during this period. While the Tribunal accepts it may have been difficult during these visits to pretend everything was alright nevertheless the applicant and her mother and father concealed the alleged rape from her brother whenever he visited their home for the months immediately prior to her departure. At the hearing the applicant claimed that when the Gama’at Al Islamiya knew she would not convert to Islam they would tell her brother. Given that the group did not tell her brother prior to the applicant’s departure from Egypt the Tribunal finds this claim implausible.

As indicated earlier the applicant married in Australia. At the hearing the applicant claimed the reason she married so quickly (although psychologically broken) was because she had found someone to “protect her from the shame and loss of honour”. Given that the applicant is now married with a child and protected from shame the Tribunal does not accept that the applicant would face a real chance of revenge from her family as an alleged victim of rape if she returned to Egypt.

At the very end of the hearing the applicant hinted her family would consider her daughter as the fruit of sin and shame and would not accept her marriage. However the applicant’s own evidence (which is supported by the independent evidence) indicates that her marriage was a way of avoiding shame. The applicant’s adviser provided no submissions relating to this claim although he provided submissions in relation to other claims raised at the hearing in his letter to the Tribunal dated. As the applicant’s parents were prepared to conceal the applicant’s rape from the police, her brother and their wider family prior to the applicant’s departure in order to protect her from shame, the Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that her parents would expose her to the risk of shame on her return to Egypt. The Tribunal does not accept that the applicant now a married woman with a child would face a real chance of revenge from her family if she returned to Egypt.

The applicant claimed while living in Egypt she suffered discrimination. The applicant claimed at the hearing that while at university Islamic groups would harass Christians if they talked to male students and professors didn’t award them high marks to enable them to continue with post graduate studies. She also claimed she had great difficulty finding employment. She claimed her job at the research centre was a menial job obtained through a family friend. She claimed she was only employed in the corporation on a contract basis and was not eligible for promotions or increases in salary. She claimed when she left church she was often called an infidel because she didn’t cover her head.

The Tribunal accepts that Coptic Christians in Egypt may experience some form of discrimination and harassment. The Tribunal accepts that the applicant may have suffered discrimination and harassment at university. The Tribunal accepts it may have been difficult to obtain employment and that she was employed on a contract basis rather than being offered a permanent position. The Tribunal notes that the applicant was not denied the right to earn a living nor was her ability to earn a living significantly restricted. The term persecution requires “some serious punishment or penalty or some significant detriment or disadvantage”. The Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that the discrimination suffered by the applicant is of sufficient seriousness as to amount to persecution. The Tribunal also notes the independent information set out on p24 of this decision which indicates the Egyptian government has taken steps to reduce the level of discrimination faced by Copts.

In her initial application to the Department and at the hearing the applicant claimed she had no difficulty practising her religion in Egypt. The applicant claimed she was very active in the church going there most days and was responsible for the children’s activities. The applicant did not claim and the evidence before me does not suggest that she was prevented from practising her religion in Egypt.

After considering all of the applicant’s claims both individually and cumulatively the Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that there is a real chance the applicant would face treatment amounting to persecution for a Convention reason if she returns to Egypt. The Tribunal is unable to be satisfied that the applicant has a well founded fear of persecution for any Convention reason.

CONCLUSION

Having considered the evidence as a whole, the Tribunal is not satisfied that the applicant is a person to whom Australia has protection obligations under the Refugees Convention as amended by the Refugees Protocol. Therefore the applicant does not satisfy the criterion set out in s.36(2) of the Act for a protection visa.

DECISION

The Tribunal affirms the decision not to grant a protection visa.

Ms Kerry Anne Hartman


AustLII: Copyright Policy | Disclaimers | Privacy Policy | Feedback
URL: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/RRTA/2000/1060.html