Arab Spring, Libya Edition

In Benghazi, four alleged Christian missionaries–from the U.S., Egypt, South Korea and South Africa–have been arrested for distributing extracts from the Bible, and may face the death penalty:

Four foreigners have been arrested in Libya on suspicion of being missionaries and distributing Christian literature, a charge that could carry the death penalty.

The four – a Swedish-American, Egyptian, South African and South Korean – were arrested in Benghazi by Preventive Security, an intelligence unit of the defence ministry, accused of printing and distributing bible pamphlets in the city. …

“Proselytising is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100% Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security,” security official Hussein Bin Hmeid told Reuters.

Human rights activists in Libya aren’t quite what we are used to here:

Benghazi lawyer and human rights activist Bilal Bettamer said Libya was a wholly Muslim country and Christians should not be trying to spread their faith. “It is disrespectful. If we had Christianity we could have dialogue, but you can’t just spread Christianity,” he said. “The maximum penalty is the death penalty. It’s a dangerous thing to do.”

I like that Orwellian formulation: if we had Christianity we could have dialogue, but we don’t have Christianity, so…

The anti-proselytizing law dates to the Gaddafi era, but the current enforcement agency dates from the Islamic uprising:

Preventive Security is a unit created from several rebel formations during the 2011 uprising, although until now it has had a low profile, and this is Libya’s first known arrest on proselytising charges since Libya’s Arab spring revolution.

There are a handful of Christian churches in Libya, but they are tolerated only as long as they restrict their services to foreigners:

Tripoli’s Anglican Church of Christ the King held its normal Sunday service on Sundaywith the priest, Reverend Vasihar Baskaran, saying that, as during the Gaddafi era, the authorities placed no restrictions on worshippers.

But he said the five Christian churches in Tripoli have a tacit agreement with the authorities not to proselytise. “We don’t distribute literature, so we don’t have any problems,” he told the Guardian. “It is better not to indulge in these activities because we respect Libyans. We respect their religion.”

The Anglican church, present in Tripoli for more than 200 years, has no Libyans in the congregation, and Revd Vasihar said he had yet to meet a Libyan Christian.

Not exactly a profile in courage. Whither Libya? “On Sunday, Libya’s de facto head of state, speaker of congress Mohammed Magariaf, pledged that Libya would incorporate sharia law into its future constitution, during a speech in Benghazi to mark the second anniversary of the 2011 revolution.” I suppose that means that in the future, Libya won’t be so tolerant of religions other than Islam.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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