By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Repeated electrical shock torture of an Egyptian Christian accused of “proselytizing” in Libya likely exacerbated his heart ailment, leading to his death in custody, according to sources close to the deceased.
Ezzat Hakim Atallah died while in custody of Libyan authorities, according to relatives. (Courtesy: MidEast Christian News)
(http://morningstarnews.org), Ezzat Hakim Atallah, 45, died on March 10 in a Tripoli jail while in the custody of an Islamic militia group known as the Preventative Security Unit.
Atallah was arrested without being formally charged in Benghazi on Feb. 13 as Preventative Security was rounding up expatriate Christians and accusing them of spreading Christianity to Muslims. The group is an internal police force formed during the Libyan Revolution by regional rebel leaders.
Sources close to Atallah told Morning Star News he had a “serious chest condition” that would have cost him his life under the repeated beatings and electrical shocks.
Atallah was taken to a hospital once during his captivity, on March 6, but he returned to jail after medical personnel were either unwilling or unable to properly treat him, they said.
Morning Star News said Libyan authorities told his family he collapsed in jail and that he died of high blood pressure. The embassy of Egypt, a country where a majority believes those who leave Islam should receive the death penalty, has claimed he probably died of “natural causes.” Atallah also reportedly suffered from diabetes.
In Washington, D.C., advocacy group Coptic Solidarity planned a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy.
Morning Star News said the group called for release of all Egyptians charged with “proselytizing” in Libya and an investigation into Atallah’s death, and it “condemns in the strongest terms the Egyptian authorities, especially the foreign minister, the ambassador in Libya and the consul in Benghazi, for their failure to defend their fellow citizens.”
Ezzat Hakim Atallah’s widow, Ragaa Nagah (with ponytail), collapses with grief upon arrival to Cairo's airport (Photo: Morning Star News)
“He is all of us,” said one of the people gathered to pay their respects at Cairo International Airport. “What happened to him could happen to any of us.”
Morning Star News said more than 100 well-wishers, most of them Christians from several denominations, joined relatives of Atallah's widow to greet her at the airport. She was overcome with emotion and collapsed in the airport lobby. Helped to a set of chairs, she recovered and left to collect her husband's body. His remains were transferred by van to Assiut and were buried within hours of arriving.
Morning Star News said Atallah, who had run a cellphone sales business in Benghazi, was arrested as part of a round-up of foreign Christians the week of Feb. 10. Seven Christians were arrested that week, four of them Egyptians.
Initially only one of the seven, Sherif Ramses, was believed to have been tortured, but now Christians with close ties to Libya say all seven of those arrested have likely been tortured.
Morning Star News said Ramses owned a bookstore that sold Christian and secular books. Members of the Islamic militia used Ramses’ cell phone to identify other Christians in the area and arrested them as well, though Ramses reportedly insisted that Atallah had not taken part in his publishing business. Atallah was reportedly transferred to Tripoli on Feb. 25.
Morning Star News reported that sources close to Atallah now say the round-up occurred after a Muslim villager in Benghazi became angry when Christian literature destined for Ramses' store was mistakenly delivered to him.
It also said that Atallah's death comes after another major incident of Christian persecution in Benghazi.
The week of Feb. 17, militia members rounded up dozens of Coptic Orthodox Christians, accused them of preaching to Muslims and detained them in a camp. Numerous Copts were abused and harassed. The captors shaved the heads of many of those they detained, and forced many into hard labor.
Most of those held were detained for a week. It is almost impossible to determine how many were detained as others were later arrested, but reportedly some 35 of a an initial 55 prisoners were later deported, with the others released but allowed to remain in the county. Also, on Feb. 28 a priest and his assistant in a Coptic Orthodox church in Benghazi were attacked. Both suffered minor injuries.
Morning Star News said one Protestant clergy member who works directly with Christians in Libya said the climate toward Christians in the country has changed dramatically over the past few years.
“Now in Libya they don't like Christians, they don't tolerate them,” he said. “They know there are many Muslims that are becoming Christians. And because of it, all Christian workers are in danger.”
Morning Star News said Atallah was widely known in the Coptic community as a deeply committed Christian.
“He was a very kind person,” a pastor with ties inside Libya said. “He was someone who liked to help everyone.”
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