Hassan Mohammad Ismail, 21, was arrested by the Egyptian Mubahith (state security apparatus) in October 1990. Two of his friends, Mustafa Mohammad Said al-Sharqawi, an engineer, and Mohammad Ahmed Mohammad Selam, an accountant, had been arrested 11 days before. The three had converted to Christianity and had been sharing their faith at a youth meeting.

While in prison, according to an Egyptian human-rights organization, they were tortured with electric shocks, beaten, and threatened with rape. They were reportedly detained in squalid cells without proper food and subjected to verbal abuse, suspension by the arms, and cigarette burns.

The three were twice declared innocent by judges at hearings in November and December but were nonetheless re-arrested by the Ministry of the Interior and the Secret Police. The police filed new charges, including contempt of Islam and threatening the unity of the country, punishable by three and five years respectively. Later, a Cairo court also introduced charges of forgery (an offense that carries a possible ten-year sentence).

A number of human-rights organizations, including Christian Solidarity International and the London-based Jubilee Campaign, pressed for their release. Senators Richard Lugar and Jesse Helms also coordinated advocacy efforts by a number of U.S. legislators and Vice-president Dan Quayle.

The Egyptian ambassador to Great Britain, Mohamed I. Shaker, claimed, as evidence of the alleged guilt of all three prisoners, that “some of them made full confessions admitting the charges made against them.” Selam and el-Sharqawi may have recanted their faith—under duress—as early as December 1990. Hassan, on the other hand, reportedly said at one point, “I will never deny Christ,” and ...

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