Egypt denies ID papers to Baha'is, converts - report

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CAIRO, Nov 12 (Reuters) Human rights groups said today that Egypt routinely denies converts from Islam and members of unrecognised minority faiths such as Baha'is the right to list their true religious affiliation on key identity documents.

Regulations, rigidly enforced in Egypt, require that official documents show a religious affiliation chosen from three recognised faiths: Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Such documents are needed for all aspects of daily life in Egypt. The rights groups said Baha'is and converts from Islam to minority faiths either cannot get proper papers or are pressured to accept documents labelling them as members of faiths viewed as more palatable in socially conservative Egypt -- often Islam.

''Ministry of interior officials apparently believe that they have the right to choose someone's religion when they don't happen to like the religion that person, him or herself, has chosen,'' said Joe Stork of US-based Human Rights Watch, a co-author of the report.

''So we are asking the government today to end this arbitrary refusal to recognise someone's actual religious beliefs,'' he said.

The report on religious identity in Egypt, jointly issued with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, came shortly before rulings were due in two lawsuits challenging Egypt's identity document policy for converts and Baha'is.

Many Egyptians interviewed for the report said officials had tried to bribe or intimidate them into identifying as Muslims, the report said. It said the rules enforced by the ministry did not reflect Egyptian law.

It also urged authorities to exonerate anyone convicted of obtaining forged documents solely because the government refused to list their true faith.

The report said that while Egyptians typically face little difficulty changing religion from Christianity to Islam, they are generally not allowed to register a change in faith from Islam to another religion, which is socially risky in Egypt and is considered apostasy.

Baha'is, on the other hand, have sometimes been seen in the Arab world as disloyal because the faith has its world centre in what is now Israel. Egypt's tiny Baha'i community is said to number between 500 and 2,000.

Many analysts say a more likely reason for anti-Baha'i sentiment may be theological differences with Islam. Baha'is regard the faith's founder as the latest in a line of prophets including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad. Muslims believe Mohammad was the final prophet.

A court is due to decide on Saturday whether Egyptians born as Christians who converted to Islam and then sought to revert to their original faith can have that choice reflected on their identity cards. A court should also rule soon on whether Baha'is can omit their religious identity from official papers.

The Interior Ministry has said that it was simply enforcing regulations and carrying out court rulings.

Reuters YA DB2131

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