Christians 'being rounded up and tortured' in Libya
Published 14/03/2013 | 05:00
Christians living in Libya have been rounded up, beaten and accused of proselytising, in the latest evidence of a militant Islamic movement gripping the country since the revolution.
The men, Egyptian Copts working in Benghazi, were seized by an Islamist militia but handed over to the government. One, named as Ezzat Atallah (44) died at the weekend after allegedly being tortured, his brother, Effat, said.
The authorities have condemned an attack on the community's priest, but in a sign of their powerlessness in the face of sectarian violence, have taken no further action. After the death of Mr Atallah, four men remain in custody out of 60 detained, while 35 of the remainder have been deported on the grounds of illegal immigration.
Ragaa Nagah, the wife of one of the four incarcerated men, Emad Seddeek, said: "When I visited him he was in a pitiful condition. He was afraid to tell us how he was tortured, but he couldn't see out of one of his eyes.
"They were standing over him and beating him while they asked him to confess and when they were about to give him an electric shock he said, 'Don't do that and I will say anything you want me to say'."
The arrests were revealed in a startling video that sent shock waves through Egypt's Christian minority. It showed a room full of prisoners, lorded over by Islamist militiamen who had shaved their captives' heads.
The round-up appears to have been carried out by Ansar al-Sharia, a notorious militant accused of involvement in the death of Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador, in the city last September. That group is not recognised by the authorities, though it operates with impunity.
The video makes clear that the incident started as a business dispute.
Muslim stallholders complained that Christians overpaid for their stalls, making it hard for them to compete.
The seizing of the men followed the arrest of four Christians from different countries for proselytising earlier in February.
Among the recent arrests was that of a bookseller and evangelist called Shareef Ramses, said to be in possession of "thousands" of Bibles.
The men kept in custody in the most recent incident, including Mr Atallah, were being investigated because their numbers were on Mr Ramses's telephone, the Egyptian consul in Benghazi, Ashraf Shiha, said. He denied that they had been tortured.
The militants allegedly attacked the priest of the community's church, Father Pola Isaac, and his assistant.
"They shaved Fr Pola's moustache off, and his head, and beat him up before letting him go," said Yussef Shaker, the son of another of the detainees, Adel Shaker. (© Daily Telegraph, London)