04/26/2024 | North Africa

Libya: A country that needs our prayer!

Double exposure photo of Libyans. © M.T. ElGassier (unsplash.com)

The US Library of Congress reported: On 13 April 2023, the Internal Security Agency of Libya’s Government of National Unity, which replaced the Government of National Accord in 2021, arrested a number of individuals including an American citizen on charges of apostasy and conducting Christian missionary work in the country.

Two of the expatriate Christians were released and deported a few days later on 16 April 2023. Further two expats and at least 10 Libyan nationals were according to official reports still in custody in December 2023. Libya has not been forthcoming with information regarding its persecution of converts from Islam.

The online news agency "The New Arab" in London reported on 3 May of 2023 that six of the detainees had been arraigned for capital offences. The women and men were accused of having converted to Christianity and of having influenced Muslims to leave Islam. They had been arrested in March by the State Agency for Internal Security (ISA). According to the Libyan penal code, they face the death penalty for statements that "aim to overthrow the political, social or economic order of the state." According to The New Arab, the ISA said the Christians had been arrested "to stop an organised gang action aimed at getting people to leave Islam."

ISA also detained and later released a US citizen who was involved in Christian activities. The ISA posted videos online of the detainees confessing to their conversion and proselytism. One video showed the detained American citizen telling authorities that he and others brought in Bibles with invisible ink, readable only with a special light, to protect the privacy of those reading them. A lawyer for another one of the detainees told The Guardian his client was tortured into renouncing his faith.

USCIRF writes: “In recent years, converts from Islam to other religions, especially Christianity, have faced harassment and serious punitive measures from government and affiliated actors. In 2022, the Misrata Court of Appeal sentenced to death a young man for his conversion from Islam to Christianity four years earlier. The same year, the Internal Security Agency (ISA) of Tripoli, an intelligence and law enforcement organisation affiliated with successive Western governments, arrested and detained at least seven young men “opposed to Libyan and Islamic values,” later posting alleged forced confession videos in which the detainees admitted “communicating with atheists, agnostics, Quranists, feminists, and secularists both online and in person.” The ISA reportedly issued online statements claiming the detainees had conspired to spread atheism.

In 2023, the ISA and other Western authorities continued their pursuit of alleged apostates and proselytisers. In March and April, the ISA made a string of religiously based arrests targeting Christian converts and alleged proselytisers. One series of investigations resulted in the detention of at least ten Libyans for alleged apostasy and two U.S. citizens, as well as two other foreign nationals for alleged proselytising. Although the U.S. citizens were released within days, the others are believed to remain in detention, as a result of their alleged participation in an “organized gang action aiming to solicit and to make people leave Islam.” In October, reports suggested the ISA expressed an intention to reopen investigations in the cases of the remaining detainees.

To date, we have no reliable information as to whether the above-mentioned death sentence ruled in 2022 was executed or not. We understand that it has been appealed.

According to the World Persecution Index of Open Doors for 2024, Libya ranks third, rising from  its fifth position last year,  on the list of countries where Christians are most persecuted.

The interim constitution of 2011 guaranteed freedom of religion for non-Muslims, but it was suspended amid Libya’s 2014-2020 civil war. Libya has a small Christian minority, mostly made up of Coptic Orthodox Egyptians who have historical roots in the country, but USCIRF attests that there is a small, yet growing community of converts from Islam to the Christian faith. As a result of the dangers of having converted to Christianity, converts can only exist as underground believers.

Our partner Barnabas-Fund reports that many Libyan citizens are losing interest in Islam. One survey found that 36% of Libyans aged 18 to 29 are not religious. Some Libyans are turning to Christ, but the number of believers in the country remains very small.