Four Missionaries Arrested in Benghazi May Face Libya Death Penalty
Update (March 1): AFP reports that 48 Egyptian Christians have been arrested in Benghazi on illegal immigration charges. They are accused of attempting to evangelize Muslims, but "the main charge was illegal entry into Libya."
Update (Feb. 26): Morning Star News has additional information on the arrests.
Update (Feb. 22): Middle East Concern has new information regarding the arrests:
Our prayers have been requested following the arrest of an Egyptian Christian businessman in Benghazi, capital of Cyrenaica province, eastern Libya.
Sherif is a businessman who runs a bookshop in Benghazi. The stock includes Christian books, intended for sale to the many expatriate Arabic speaking Christians living and working in Benghazi and the surrounding areas.
We regret to report that Sherief was arrested on 10th February. He remains detained and, to date, has not been charged before a court. He has been physically mistreated repeatedly.
Other Christians in Benghazi have also been arrested, including several Egyptians and three non-Arab expatriates. They were working as language teachers or businessmen. They have been accused of proselytising, although no formal charges have yet been made against any of them. It is likely they were arrested because they have done business with Sherif or know him socially.
In the period leading up to the second anniversary of the start of the revolution (17th February), several communities of Catholic nuns decided to leave the country following threats against their safety. Those affected were in the towns of Tobruk, Beida, el Merj and Derna, all within Cyrenaica province. One group located in Benghazi chose to remain.
Four foreign missionaries were arrested in Benghazi, Libya, last week on charges of printing and distributing materials that promote Christianity. One is an American citizen.
The Associated Press, which broke the news, reports that Benghazi police claim to have "found 45,000 books in [the missionaries'] possession and that another 25,000 have already been distributed."
"They were arrested on Tuesday at a publishing house where they were printing thousands of books that called for conversion to Christianity," Hussein Bin Hmeid, spokesman for Libya's Preventative Security, told Reuters. "Proselytizing is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 percent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security."
The arrests were announced as Libyans celebrated the second anniversary of their revolution against former ruler Muammar Gaddafi. However, a holdover law from Gaddafi's reign makes proselytizing for any religion other than Islam potentially punishable by death.
The missionaries are from South Africa, Egypt, South Korea, and Sweden. (The Swedish missionary has dual American citizenship and was traveling on a U.S. passport.)
Most Christians in Libya are foreigners, some of whom have been pressured to leave by extremists.