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Christians Arrested, One Dies in Libyan Prison

March 20, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Libya

Since Sherif Ramsis, an Egyptian Christian running a business in Benghazi, was arrested on Feb. 10, another four Egyptian and three non-Arab Christians have also been taken into custody.

A spokesman for the Libyan police told the Reuters and the Associate Press that the men were arrested in the third week of February on suspicion of distributing Christian books and proselytizing.  A security official told Reuters, “Proselytizing is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 percent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security.”

An Open Doors fieldworker for Libya expressed his deep concerns about the deteriorating situation for Christians in Libya. He said, “Since Muammar Gaddafi’s regime fell two years ago, there have been several reports of violence against Christians, but since February dozens of Christians have been confronted with hostilities, detainment and deportation. Several of them where severely mistreated and one unfortunately died while in detention.”

While the non-Arabs are being treated comparatively well, the Egyptian Christians have been denied sufficient food and warm clothing, and are being forced to sleep on a cold concrete floor. There are also reports that the men have been tortured in an attempt to extract information. One of the men, Ezzat Hakim Atallah, died in prison, on March 10, from severe chest pains. After being hospitalized four days earlier, he was returned to his cell and reportedly passed away while fellow inmates watched helplessly. Like Sherif, Ezzat ran a business in Benghazi for over ten years. He leaves behind a wife and two children ages 11 and 15.

In separate incidents spanning  the past few weeks, around 100 Egyptian Copts have reportedly been stopped by militia groups, had their heads shaved and been deported from Libya. Two Copts were killed in a bomb blast in December; armed men attacked a priest and his assistant in Benghazi on Feb 28; and in March, an unidentified gunman narrowly missed shooting a priest in the Catholic cathedral in Tripoli.

Libyans just recently celebrated the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. Under the rule of Gaddafi the situation for Christians was extremely harsh and foreign workers often faced intolerance. The main source of persecution during Gaddafi’s reign was the government and its secret services. Opposition now comes primarily from the family, community and fanatical armed groups. Currently the new central government  does not have control over the numerous armed groups and the social unrest and intolerance is yet at a very high level.

An Open Doors fieldworker says, “The development of the past month is a big blow and a sobering setback. I truly hope that more Libyans will stand up and cling to the freedom that was fought over so badly two years ago.” Libya is #17 on Open Doors’ World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians suffer the most severe persecution for their faith.

Father, we pray for the quick release of the seven Christians who are still in prison. In her grief, we pray Your comfort to surround Ezzat’s widow and their two children. We pray for Libyan Christians, in particular, that You would not allow them to fall into despair. Father, help them to turn their eyes to You, to Your sufficiency, to a life filled with hope. As the government continues to transition, we pray for peace and religious freedom to prevail in Libya. In the name of Jesus, who strengthens His church, Amen.

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