Four foreign nationals accused of distributing Christian literature, a charge that could carry the death penalty
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Four foreigners have been arrested in Libya on suspicion of being missionaries and distributing Christian literature, a charge that could carry the death penalty.
The four - a Swedish-American, Egyptian, South African and South Korean - were arrested in Benghazi by Preventative Security, an intelligence unit of the defence ministry, accused of printing and distributing bible pamphlets in the city.
Libya retains a law from the Muammar Gaddafi era that makes proselytising a criminal offence potentially punishable by death. The arrests underlined the sometimes difficult relationship between churches and the new authorities.
"Proselytising is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100% Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security," security official Hussein Bin Hmeid told Reuters.
All four remain in custody in Benghazi, and local reports say they may appear in court next week.
It is reported that the foreigners, who have received consulate assistance from their embassies, have been in Libya for some time and had contracted a local printer to produce pamphlets explaining Christianity. Security officials have focused on those pamphlets said to have already been distributed.
Benghazi lawyer and human rights activist Bilal Bettamer said Libya was a wholly Muslim country and Christians should not be trying to spread their faith. "It is disrespectful. If we had Christianity we could have dialogue, but you can't just spread Christianity," he said. "The maximum penalty is the death penalty. It's a dangerous thing to do."
Preventative Security is a unit created from several rebel formations during the 2011 uprising, although until now it has had a low profile, and this is Libya's first known arrest on proselytising charges since Libya's Arab spring revolution. Three years ago, several dozen British, American and Dutch missionaries were arrested and expelled from Morocco on similar charges.
Libya, a conservative Muslim country, has no known Christian minority, and churches, the preserve of foreign residents, have seen few of the attacks seen in Egypt and Tunisia, where there have been church burnings.
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SOURCE: The Guardian
Chris Stephen in Tripoli