Libyan Authorities Torture Arrested Coptic Christian Accused of Proselytizing

A Libyan rebel fighter carries the Kingdom of Libya flag in Tripoli August 23, 2011.
A Libyan rebel fighter carries the Kingdom of Libya flag in Tripoli August 23, 2011. | (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

Libyan authorities continue to imprison Christians under accusations of proselytization. As of last week the number reached to seven in custody, including an Egyptian Copt named Sherif Ramses who sources say has been tortured.

Morning Star News (MSN), an independent Christian-focused news agency, reported that the Libyan Preventive Security Unit arrested three Egyptian Christians on 13 and 16 February, in addition to the four foreign Christians previously arrested this month on charges of proselytization in Benghazi.

It added that of the four, only Sherif Ramses has been publicly identified.

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As with others arrested, Ramses was alleged to have 30,000 Bibles, a number which has been inflated in statements by Libyan police to 45,000.

It said that Ramses ran a small printing service in Benghazi and a bookstore that sold both Christian and secular books.

"All the detainees were being held in Benghazi," the paper noted, though it added that the prisoners have yet to be officially charged.

The paper continued, "Preventative Security spokesperson Hussein Bin Hmeid said in a statement to Reuters that the four Christians originally arrested were printing books calling for conversion to Christianity. He said the country is 100 percent Muslim and that proselytizing 'affects our national security.'"

MSN quoted sources close to the arrests as saying that Ramses has been tortured, noting that he was severely bruised. Several other sources independently told the newspaper that Preventative Security was able to get the names of other Christians in Libya from Ramses, possibly by accessing information on his cell phone.

Rumors were also circulating throughout Libya about another wave of arrests that took place on 17 February in Tripoli.

Regarding these arrests, MSN said that its sources in Libya reported that no one has been able to contact these detainees, learn their location or even get an estimate of the number of those arrest.

"They say it was a large group," the paper said a source in Cairo said. "They were supposed to be released but there has been no word."

Sources added that Ramses would most likely stand trial, while the other detainees would probably be released.

They added its unknown what penalty a guilty verdict would bring, as a law against proselytization is from the previous regime and Libya has yet to approve a new constitution or penal code.

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