Two Canadian human-rights activists say they fear for their lives after being wrongly linked to an anti-Muslim film that has sparked worldwide riots and protests.
Nader Fawzy and Jacques Attalla said Thursday they are among a number of Coptic Christians who Egypt has accused of being involved in the production, distribution or promotion of the film, Innocence of Muslims.
Both men deny any link to the film. They said they had never heard of the amateurish movie until it began sparking violent protests across the Middle East last week. Mr. Fawzy had actually denounced the film in a statement issued on behalf of the Middle East Christian Association.
The two men, both Canadian citizens, say they believe they’ve been targeted because they’ve been outspoken activists against the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt.
“I think the new Islamic regime in Egypt, they are trying to terror[ize] all the Coptic activists outside of Egypt to let them shut up, to keep quiet,” Mr. Fawzy said in a telephone interview from his home in Toronto.
Mr. Fawzy’s name appears on a list of seven Coptic Christians, plus Florida pastor Terry Jones, against whom Egypt’s prosecutor general issued arrest warrants earlier this week for alleged involvement with the film.
The others are primarily based in the United States. They were all accused of offending Islam, insulting the Prophet Mohammed, inciting sectarian strife and jeopardizing the country’s peace and independence.
Mr. Attalla said there are at least 10 other names identified in the Arabic media as having arrest warrants issued against them. His name is among them.
“I am on the first list,” Mr. Attalla said. “They consider us the most dangerous people because we are trying to save the lives of the Christian minority in Egypt in a very safe, very civilized way.
“We just write and we talk on the TV. That’s all what we do.” We never carry a weapon like them, we never threaten anybody, we never talk about religion or produce a movie. We don’t have any money to do that.”
Neither man is particularly worried about ever being prosecuted in Egypt, where they said they could theoretically face the death penalty. Neither intends to return to their homeland.
They are far more worried that senior Muslim clerics have offered a reward for killing them.
“You never know who is crazy, can come to shoot me for no reason,” said Mr. Fawzy.
“There is a lot of people in Canada that can do it … and in the [United] States, they’re willing to do anything for their religion. So I can’t say because I’m in Canada that I’m fully safe.”
Mr. Fawzy is particularly concerned about the safety of his mother and sister who still live in Egypt. “They are two old ladies living alone … so I am scared they can touch them.”
Mr. Attalla, who has lived in Canada for 20 years, is sufficiently concerned about his safety that he asked that personal details, including the city where he and his children currently reside, be kept confidential.
“I feel my life is threatened,” he said. “I need invisible protection and I need also protection for my family and I need a report from the police or the MPs, or whoever, that the government is taking care of its citizens.”
Both men have spoken to their respective MPs about their concerns for their safety.Toronto Liberal Jim Karygiannis, Mr. Fawzy’s MP, said the federal government must challenge Egypt to show reason why arrest warrants have been issuedagainst the two Canadians.
“The Canadian government must ask the Egyptian government for the evidence and, if the evidence is found to be insufficient, the Canadian government must demand that [the names] be removed from the list,” he said.
Mr. Karygiannis said he believes the men should go to the police with their safety concerns. He also alerted Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to the situation late Thursday, asking for his “immediate attention.”