March 1, 2013
Libya Update: 50 More Benghazi Christians Arrested (VIDEO)
(Updated) Egyptian traders arrested for illegal immigration but accused of proselytism.
Update (Mar. 15): Morning Star News reports that Ezzat Hakim Attalah, the Christian missionary who died while being held in jail in Libya last week, likely died as a result of torture.
"Repeated electrical shock torture ... likely exacerbated his heart ailment, leading to his death in custody, according to sources close to the deceased," Morning Star reports.
Update (Mar. 11): Asia News reports that one Christian, Ezzat Hakim Attalah, has died of natural causes while being held in jail in Benghazi, Libya, following his arrest with fix other Christians on Feb. 28.
Libyan security officials arrested almost 50 more foreign Christians this week in Benghazi.
Agence France-Presse reports that 48 Egyptian Christians who worked as traders in a city marketplace are accused of attempting to evangelize Muslims, but were arrested on charges of illegal immigration.
The Egyptians "were found in possession of a quantity of Bibles, texts encouraging conversion to Christianity, and images of Christ and the late Pope Shenuda of Egypt's Coptic Christians, none of which were for 'personal use,'" a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Alleged photos and a video (embedded below) of the detainees were posted by activists. Bishop Pachomios, the Coptic archbishop of Libya, told Egyptian newspaper Ahram that "it doesn't make sense that as many as 100 Egyptian Copts had decided to engage in proselytizing activities in another country."
The Egyptian Human Rights Union Organisation, chaired by Coptic Christian Najib Gabriel, has appealed to the Arab League for help in releasing those arrested. “When arrested, they were not engaged in proselytism," he told Gulf News. "They were just having pictures of the Christ and the (late Coptic) Pope Shenouda, things always carried by Christians to invoke blessings.”
On Thursday, Libya's prime minister urged militias, one of which is suspected to have arrested the Christians, to join government security forces. "Militias, however, often act with impunity, running their own prison cells, making arrests and taking confessions in total absence of state control and oversight," notes the Associated Press.
CT previously noted the recent arrest of four missionaries—hailing from Egypt, South Africa, South Korea, and Sweden—in Benghazi on charges of printing and distributing materials that promote Christianity. (The Swedish missionary has dual American citizenship and was traveling on a U.S. passport.)
Middle East Concern identified the Egyptian as Sherif Ramses (photo), a businessman who runs a bookshop that "includes Christian books, intended for sale to the many expatriate Arabic speaking Christians living and working in Benghazi and the surrounding areas." It continued:
"Other Christians in Benghazi have also been arrested, including several Egyptians and three non-Arab expatriates. They were working as language teachers or businessmen. They have been accused of proselytising, although no formal charges have yet been made against any of them. It is likely they were arrested because they have done business with Sherif or know him socially."
Morning Star News (MSN) reports that three more Christians were also arrested in Benghazi (as well as an unknown number in Tripoli), but observers expect all to be released except Ramses, who "will likely stand trial." Currently proselytizing in the Muslim nation can be punished with death, but as MSN notes:
"It was unclear what penalty a guilty verdict would bring for Ramses, as the proselytizing law is a hold-over from the previous regime deposed in October 2011, and Libya has yet to approve a new constitution. When arrested and asked why he thought he could hand out Bibles in Libya, Ramses reportedly told his captors, 'They say Libya is supposed to be a free country.'"