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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 February 2008, 21:38 GMT
Egypt to recognise Copt converts
By Bob Trevelyan
BBC News

Convert Yasser Helmy (r) and an unidentified colleague celebrate at the court
The group's lawyer said the ruling was a victory for religious freedom
An Egyptian court has ruled that 12 Christians who converted to Islam and then reverted to Christianity can have their faith officially recognised.

The decision overturns a lower court ruling which said the state need not recognise conversions from Islam because of a religious ban.

This is a case that has tested Egypt's tolerance of conversions from Islam.

A lawyer for the 12 Coptic Christians described the case as a victory for human rights and freedom of religion.

He says it could open the door for hundreds of other Copts who want to revert to their original faith from Islam.

Limited application

It appears, though, that the court's decision will have a limited application.

Reports say the judge decided that the Copts should not be considered apostates for converting from Islam, because they had been born Christian.

This suggests that Egyptians born Muslim will still be unable to convert to other faiths and have those conversions recognised on their identity cards. Many Muslims believe that converting from Islam is wrong, and some believe it is punishable by death.

Last year, an Egyptian convert to Christianity was forced to go into hiding when he received death threats after trying to have his conversion officially recognised.

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