Libyan authorities have arrested four foreigners on suspicion of distributing Christian books and proselytizing in the eastern city of Benghazi. Evangelism in the "100 percent Muslim" nation is a crime, assert police, who have allowed Islamist extremists to drive Christian out of Libya.
The suspected missionaries – from South Africa, Egypt and South Korea, and one held both Swedish and U.S. nationality – were arrested Tuesday, and are under investigation for printing and distributing books that proselytize Christianity, The Associated Press reported Saturday.
Police said they found 45,000 books in their possession and that another 25,000 have already been distributed. "Proselytising is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 percent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security," police spokesman Hussein bin Hamid was quoted as saying.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry has confirmed that a dual national Swedish-American citizen was arrested while traveling on a U.S. passport. The U.S. embassy has not responded.
"We are still holding interrogations and will hand them over to the Libyan intelligence authorities in a couple of days," Hamid added.
The four were arrested by the Preventative Security, a government-affiliated parallel security body created during the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. Extremist Islamists played a major role in the ouster of Gaddafi, and are now part of the security apparatus.
The United States took part in a military intervention in the conflict, aiding anti-Gaddafi rebels with air strikes against the Libyan Army.
However, Catholic news agency Fides earlier this month reported that Christians are being driven out of eastern Libya by Muslim fundamentalists. The situation is "critical" and the "atmosphere very tense" in the Cyrenaica region, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli was quoted as saying.
"In past days, the Congregation of the Holy Family of Spoleto who had been there for nearly 100 years were forced to abandon Derna," a port city in eastern Libya, he said. "In Barce [located between Benghazi and Derna] the Franciscan Sisters of the Child Jesus will leave their home in coming days."
Martinelli added that fundamentalism has governed decisions in Libya for some time now.
Christians in Libya have been increasingly concerned about their safety since a church bombing in December 2012 killed two people in the Mediterranean town of Dafniya.
"Not a day goes by without tombs being vandalized," Agence France Presse quoted Dalmasso Bruno, caretaker of an Italian cemetery in Tripoli, as early this month. "Human bones have been taken out of their tomb and scattered across the cemetery. The Libyan authorities came and took pictures. They promised to take measures but nothing has been done."
Libya had as many as 100,000 Christians before the 2011 revolution that toppled Gaddafi, Father Dominique Rezeau of the Catholic church of Saint Francis near central Tripoli was quoted as saying. "Now only a few thousand remain."