A mother and her seven children have been jailed for 15 years for converting back to Christianity from Islam in Egypt.
Nadia Mohamed Ali was raised a Christian but converted to Islam 23 years ago when she married Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab Mustafa. Following his death, she planned to convert back to her original faith, along with the rest of her family. But a criminal court in Beni Suef, in central Egypt, sentenced them to jail for 15 years last week, according to reports.
Seven other people, who were involved in the case, were also sentenced to five years in jail. Human rights advocates have now warned the sentence is a sign of things to come in Egypt under the Islamist government. The conversion came to light after the family attempted to get new identity cards in 2004, when one of her children was arrested two years later and confessed the documents had been changed illegally when police noticed he had changed his name and became suspicious. Nadia, her children and the clerks who processed the identity cards were subsequently arrested and charged.
Christians in the country have said they face difficulties if they have converted to Islam and wish to switch back, leading some to forge the documents, which could land them in jail. Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, has said while similar conversions had been common, the new Sharia-based constitution in Egypt was "a real disaster" for religious freedom.
He said: "The cases will increase in the future. It will be much harder for people to return to Christianity."
The constitution was pushed through last year by President Mohamed Morsi, who succeeded Hosni Mubarak following an election last June. Secular and liberal groups, as well as Coptic Christians, opposed the constitution and protested against it at the time it was passed.
Human rights advocates have warned the sentence is a sign of things to come under the new constitution brought in by President Mohamed Morsi