Attacks, detentions and arson continue to pressure Christian minority
On March 14, in Benghazi, eastern Libya, as-yet publicly unidentified arsonists set fire to the main Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church. Pictures - notably by Libya’s Herald (‘The New Independent Libya Daily’) - show the windows of the church blackened by smoke. No casualties were reported, but reports say the fire produced more damage inside the two-storey building.
Witnesses of this second targeting of the church in recent weeks said they suspected the arsonists were militia members. On Feb. 28, armed men had attacked Rev. Paula Isaac, a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and his assistant. The Libyan foreign ministry has condemned the attack on church and the aggression towards the cleric and his assistant by ‘the irresponsible armed men’, AFP news agency reported.
There is growing pressure on the Christian community in a country where more than 97 percent of the 6.5 million inhabitants are Muslims. However, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come from neighboring countries such as Egypt, many of them Christians from its large Coptic community. Other Christians in Libya are tiny numbers of American, European and other expatriate workers.
The lack of freedom of religion in Libya was notorious under the rule of the late President Muammar Gaddafi. During his 42 years’ regime, the situation for Christians was described by human rights groups as extremely harsh. His greatly feared secret police imposed severe restrictions on Christian organizations and their activities. Distribution of Christian literature was banned and evangelism was criminalized.
The fall of Gaddafi’s regime, following the 2011 popular uprising, did not bring any significant change. The tiny minority of Christians continue to experience various forms of pressure, mainly from armed groups. In its 2013 report, Human Rights Watch pointed out the failure of Libya's now-governing General National Congress, elected in July 2012, to disband armed groups responsible for numerous abuses across the country.
‘‘Non-Libyans from sub-Saharan Africa, mainly migrant workers, are particularly vulnerable to abuse, facing harassment, arrests, ill-treatment in detention, forced labor and no regulated access to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’’.
Attacks against religious minorities since Gaddafi lost his grip on power started in October 2011, and have intensified.
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Copyright 2013 World Watch Monitor