Egypt Pardons Three Americans Jailed on Religious Charges
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ President Hosni Mubarak pardoned three Americans accused of promoting Christianity among Muslims, and they left Egypt on Monday, their lawyer said.
Mubarak apparently acted under pressure from the United States. The government has refused to discuss the case.
The Americans were Richard P. Dugan Jr., of Fort Wayne, Ind.; Brian Eckheart, of Buffalo Center, Iowa; and Robert M. Cunningham, of South Weymouth, Mass. Thomas A. Martin, a New Zealander charged with them, also was being released, said attorney Magda Fathi.
She said they were moved from Torah maximum security prison, south of Cairo, to Taraheel jail Saturday before their expulsion Monday.
A colleague of the four, Randy Hoffman, confirmed their release but didn’t know if Abdel-Hamid Adel Nefa, an Egyptian arrested with them, also was freed.
Nefa apparently is accused of changing his religion under the influence of the others.
″As far as we know, all foreigners are on the way or preparing to go,″ said Hoffman, a spokesman for Industrial Systems and Components Co., an export management firm of Warrenton, Va.
All five of the accused worked for his company.
Dugan and Eckheart reportedly were going to Cyprus and Cunningham to the United States.
Egypt considers itself a secular state, but Islamic piety is a tactic in its fight against Muslim extremists trying to topple Mubarak’s government. Since the mid-1980s the government has quashed religious movements ranging from Bahai, a humanistic spinoff of Islam, to the free-love Christian sect the Children of God.
The latest group had been held without bail since Feb. 21 under emergency laws in effect since Muslim extremists assassinated President Anwar Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981. Authorities have wide leeway to hold suspects without charge or bail.
Proselytizing is not a crime in Egypt, but the constitution does not allow a person to ″defame a revealed religion.″ The Koran considers those to be Islam, Christianity or Judaism.
In practice, the law is interpreted to forbid conversion away from Islam but not to Islam.
Although never charged, the five faced that allegation. They had faced up to five years in prison if convicted.
In Washington, John Hanford, an aide to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said the accused were released on the spur of the moment.
Hanford said, ″There was no formal hearing this morning. They simply were given a van ride to the airport and put on a plane. Our embassy was contacted and asked to make flight arrangements.″
Lugar was involved because Dugan is a constituent.