CAIRO, (AP) – An Egyptian judge on Thursday convicted two American couples of human trafficking in an illegal adoptions case and sentenced them to two years in prison, in a trial that highlighted bureaucratic entanglements and murky legislation on adopting children in this predominantly Muslim country.
The four were also ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 Egyptian pounds, or $18,153, each,
The case, first of its kind in Egypt, became publicly known earlier this year, when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo reported to authorities it was suspicious of the couples after they tried to get their adopted children out of Egypt.
The four — Iris Botros and Louis Andros of Durham, North Carolina, and Egyptian-born Suzan Hagoulf and her husband Medhat Metyas — were arrested in December and went on trial in May on charges of child trafficking and forgery.
Last year, they adopted children from a Cairo orphanage that allegedly gave them forged documents stating the adoptive children had been born to them.
Islamic law observed in Egypt bans Muslims from adopting children, in the name of maintaining clear bloodlines to ensure lines of patrimony and inheritance. At most, Muslims can take a child into long-term foster care, but this doesn’t allow the child to inherit from the foster parents.
However, adoptions within the minority Christian community in Egypt — including by Egyptian Christians living abroad — do take place, usually involving a donation to a Christian orphanage. Proponents say this type of adoption is not explicitly banned, but still faces monumental barriers.
There was some confusion over whether all four Americans in the case were U.S. citizens and whether they had dual American-Egyptian citizenship. An Egyptian police document identified Botros as only a U.S. Green Card holder.
Two U.S. Embassy officials attended the trial but declined to comment on the case.
“The embassy has been following the case and is aware of the verdict,” U.S. embassy spokeswoman Margaret White later said. She would not comment further on the case or on the American nationals, citing privacy concerns.
The Americans were brought in handcuffs to the Cairo court Thursday, wearing white T-shirts and pants. Once inside the defendants’ cage, the spouses hugged and kissed as they had been kept apart in custody.
Their spirits seemed high and they waved to reporters. Andros, who is in his 70s, wore a big silver cross around his neck, hugged and kiss his wife Botros, 40, who still had cuffs on a single hand.
The younger couple, Hagoulf and Metyas, who have been living in Egypt since 2003, also hugged and kissed. Hagoulf carried a photograph of a baby boy she had adopted from the orphanage.
After a swift sentencing, the defendants were taken away. Police prevented the couples from speaking to the media and it was unclear if they would appeal the verdicts. Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
Seven Egyptians were also sentenced in the case, including a nun connected to the orphanage, orphanage employees and a doctor who provided fake birth certificates. Four of the seven remain at large and were sentenced in absentia. The Egyptians were sentences to either two or five years imprisonment and their fines were equal to those of the Americans.
Since the case came to light, there has been speculation the Americans may have been caught up in an attempt by the Egyptian government to show it is cracking down on human trafficking, especially after criticism from the United States.
As the verdicts were pronounced, a sister of one of the Egyptian defendants cried “Haram” — Arabic for unfair or wrong.
“They are hiding facts. It is corrupt, the whole court is corrupt,” said Afaf Khalil, the sister of orphanage employee Gamil who was sentenced to five years in prison. Their brother Atif accused the government of “religious persecution,” saying it was impossible to “fairly try a Christian using an Islamic Law.”