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Expatriate Christians Accused of “Proselytizing” Released from Prison in Libya

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

4/19/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that seven expatriate Christians who were abducted in February by an Islamic militia group in Libya have been released and are now safe in their respective countries. The last Christian from the group landed in Cairo International Airport on Tuesday night.

On Feb. 10, an Islamic militia group known as the Preventative Security Unit abducted four expatriate Christians, including an Egyptian, South African, Korean and a Swedish-American with dual citizenship in the eastern coastal town of Benghazi. According to Preventative Security spokesman Hussein Bin Hmeid, the Christians were arrested for printing books that “called for conversion to Christianity,” Reuters reports. “Proselytizing is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 percent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security,” Hmeid said.

The militia took information off the Egyptian detainee’s cell phone after torturing him to get the locations of other expatriate Christians in the area. The militia rounded up the Christians, all of them Egyptian, and took four more into custody.

From the beginning of the crisis, advocates feared that the Christians would be executed if convicted of proselytizing. Last week, however, seven of the eight Christians arrested were released. The remaining Christian, Ezzat Hakim Atallah, 45, died in custody on March 10 while undergoing interrogation, which included torture. Though the Libyan government claimed his death was a result of high blood pressure, Attallah’s family, who saw his body at the morgue, say otherwise. Attallah left behind his wife and two children.

A week before Attallah’s death, gunmen attacked the Church of St. Mark in Benghazi and assaulted two priests in early March. Near the same time, as many as a hundred Coptic Orthodox Christians were rounded up across the city, taken to detention centers, and abused by militiamen. Some were deported by the Libyan government back to Egypt while others were allowed to remain in Benghazi once released.

The arrests and escalating violence targeting Christians has raised concerns over the state of religious freedom in Libya following the country’s revolution in 2011 which ousted longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power. Ishak Ibrahim, a Christian researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, compares Libya’s struggles to what is happening throughout the Middle East. Islamists are filling the power vacuums left vacant after the “Arab Spring” and imposing an extremist ideology over the entire population.“Most of these Islamic movements do not believe in freedom of faith and belief, and sponsor extreme ideologies,” Ibrahim told ICC.

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “While the liberation of Libya from Gaddafi’s rule has brought positive changes to the country, including greater freedoms for the Libyan people, there remains an overshadowing threat of rising Islamic extremism. Islamists have gained significant political influence following the country’s revolution and laws against proselytizing and other unauthorized Christian activities are being enforced to an extent never seen under former dictatorships. Islamists are growing bolder with every new arrest of a Christian for proselytizing. More Christians will be accused and more churches will be attacked unless officials intervene and uphold the religious freedoms of every citizen and foreigner living in the country. Sadly, the recent arrests may only be the beginning of a wide scale crackdown against Christianity in Libya. ICC waits eagerly for the day when a true revolution takes place in the hearts and minds of the Libyan people where the freedom and safety of all people, regardless of their faith, is respected.”

 

For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for Middle East: clay@persecution.org

 

You are free to disseminate this news story. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address, www.persecution.org. ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church.  For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.

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