03/02/2013, 00.00
LIBYA

Benghazi, 48 Egyptian Christians arrested on religious grounds

The arrest came after a complaint by some Islamists annoyed at Christian images carried by the group of Egyptians, all street and market vendors in Benghazi. Each one forced to shave their head in punishment. For the authorities, they are illegal immigrants and their detention has nothing to do with religion.

Benghazi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Islamists in Benghazi continue their hunt of Christian workers in the country accusing them of proselytism. The latest case concerns the arrest of 48 Egyptian Coptic Orthodox traders arrested last week in the capital of Cyrenaica. They were detained after a complaint by some Libyans, suspicious of the religious imagery on the vendors boards and stalls in the market of Benghazi. In a video immediately seized by police they appear locked in a small room watched over by men who have the typical beard worn by Salafists (see photo). From the pictures the 48 appear in an obvious state of physical deterioration, many show bruises and abrasions. Each of them had their head shaved.

The case has sparked outrage among the population of Benghazi, which in October rose up against the Salafi militias accused of having organized the attack on the U.S. consulate in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. Yesterday, the authorities issued a statement in which they declare that the hawkers were arrested for violating immigration laws and not for religious reasons. However, this is yet another case of discrimination against Christians living in Libya. In mid-February four foreigners - an Egyptian, a South African, a South Korean and a Swede with a U.S. passport - were arrested on charges of distributing Bibles and other religious material.

The spread of Islamic extremism is also affecting the Catholic religious orders present for decades on Libyan territory, engaged in hospital work and looking after the elderly. In January, the Islamists prompted the flight of the Franciscan Sisters of the Infant Jesus from Barce and the Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from Beida. In October instead it was the turn of nuns from the Convent of the Holy Family of Spoleto in Derna, forced to leave Libya due to continuous threats from Islamic extremists, despite the opposition of the inhabitants of the city.

 

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