Magharebia (Washington DC)

6 March 2013

Libya Condemns Benghazi Church Attack

Religious minorities are facing a growing number of threats across Libya.

The Libyan foreign ministry on Sunday (March 3rd) condemned an attack on a Coptic church in Benghazi, just days after 50 Christians were arrested and accused of proselytising.

The foreign ministry said it "strongly condemned Thursday's attack on the Egyptian church... and the aggression towards Father Paula Isaac and his deputy by the irresponsible armed men", AFP reported.

It expressed its deep sorrow and concern for what happened, and noted that the attack was a violation of the teachings of Islam, international human rights treaties, basic rights and respect of divine religions.

The foreign ministry said that the government formed a committee from the interior ministry, chief of staffs' office, and intelligence agency headed by Justice Minister Dr. Salah al-Marghani to investigate the attack.

The Libyan authorities intend to deal with this incident very seriously and professionally, especially as the government has taken the necessary measures to secure the church.

It called on Libyans to help activate and create the culture of respecting expatriates who come from friendly and brotherly countries.

Libyan authorities also urged citizens to respect the beliefs of foreign workers in line with the necessary requirements to build a state of law and institutions and in implementation of Libya's obligations under international and regional human rights and basic freedoms treaties.

Also on Sunday, 23 Egyptians Christians accused of proselytising were released pending deportation. The Coptic Church in Benghazi intervened to assist them.

Meanwhile, 25 others remain in detention and are under investigation. The priest and his assistants were released after their heads were shaved.

A security source in Benghazi said that seven or eight of them rented shops at al-Jareed popular market at the heart of Benghazi. They were arrested and their houses searched, where bibles and religious books were allegedly found.

The source noted that investigations revealed that a number of them were without visas, others were without work permits, and three had hepatitis C. He said that this was a violation of Libyan law, and that they violated the immigration and labour laws.

A network printing books for proselytising was previously arrested at a house in Shanaba, near al-Salam neighbourhood in Benghazi, Libyan army chief of staffs' preventive security department spokesman Hussain Bin Hamid said.

He said that 70,000 books were printed there, and that 45,000 copies were found while 25,000 copies were distributed.

He added that the network was made up of four members, headed by an Egyptian, and included a South African, a Korean and a Swede. However, he did not disclose their names and said that investigations were still underway.

Investigations led them to arrest the network and that one of the suspects entered the country illegally and wanted to have a residence, the spokesman said. He added that based on the on-going investigation, one or two of them could be acquitted.

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