» 03/13/2013 EGYPT - LIBYA Benghazi, Coptic Christians denounce torture and attempts to convert them to Islam 44 of the 48 Christian vendors arrested in the market of Benghazi in February on charges of proselytizing have returned home. The Salafis forced them to say the prayer of conversion to Islam and spit on the images of Pope Shenouda III. Four of them are still in the hands of the Libyan police.
Cairo (AsiaNews) - Libyan Salafis are responsible for torture, attempts to forcibly
convert and desecration of Christian imagery. This is according to 44 of the 48 Egyptian Coptic vendors on their
return home. "They forced us to pronounce the al-shahaadatayn - said one
of them - the proclamation of the Islamic faith and spit on images of Pope
Shenouda III." So far, the Egyptian government has not reacted to the
episode that involved its citizens nor charges of religious discrimination.
However, the relatives of the victims are demanding justice and accuse the Islamist
government of protecting the Libyan Salafists.
Arrested in mid-February in the Benghazi market, accused of publicizing religious
images and illegal immigration, the Coptic Orthodox were held for several days
in a jail guarded by Salafi armed guards. They were released after several days
of negotiations between the Egyptian and the Libyan governments accused on
several occasions of failing to protect foreign nationals in its territory. Currently
four Christians are still detained in Libya for further investigation.
The case has also sparked outrage among the population of Benghazi, which in
October revolted against the Salafi militias accused of having organized the
attack on the U.S. consulate in which the US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was
Further aggravating relations between Cairo and Tripoli, but also between
the Government of Benghazi and its people, is the case of Ezzat Atallah, also
Egyptian and Christian, who died last March 10 in a prison in the Cyrenaica capital
in mysterious circumstances. Like his 48 fellow vendors, he was arrested by a
Salafi militia on charges of publicizing religious images. According to the
Libyan authorities the man, 45 years old and father of two, suffered from
diabetes and heart problems and likely died of natural causes. To date, the
family has denied the statements made by the government in Benghazi. In an
interview with the Christian Middle East News Agency (Mcn-direct), Atallah's
sister points out that "my brother never had diabetes or heart."
Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi cases of aggression or attacks on foreign
minorities living in Libya have increased. The communities most affected include
the Egyptians, Coptic Christians especially Catholics and Orthodox. In
February, an armed group raided a church in the Cyrenaica capital and attacked
two Coptic priests, Fr. Paul Isaac and his assistant. At the end of February, four foreigners - an
Egyptian, a South African, a South Korean and a Swede with U.S. passport - were
arrested on charges of distributing Bibles and other religious material. They
are imprisoned in a prison in Tripoli, awaiting trial.
The presence of Islamic militants is also affecting the Catholic religious
orders present for decades on Libyan territory, engaged in healthcare 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 it was instead the turn to the nuns of the Convent of the Holy
Family of Spoleto based in Derna, who were forced to leave Libya due to
continuous threats from Islamic extremists, despite the opposition of the
inhabitants of the city. (S.C.)