Libya: “Christians need more protection”, report tells Human Rights Committee

Christians in Libya, a country mired in civil war for 9 years, are under “extreme” pressure. Open Doors has asked the UN Human Rights Committee to include religious freedom in its scheduled October review of Libya’s civil and political rights record.  

The North African country has been in conflict since the 2011 toppling of its long-term leader, Muammar Gaddafi. His fall created a power vacuum that was filled quickly by different political and military factions fighting for control. 

There have been serious concerns about human rights abuses by all parties in the conflict, and in June the UN Human Rights Council established a fact-finding mission to the country.  

“[It’s] a wake-up call to warlords and armed groups that they could be held accountable for serious crimes committed by their rank and file,” said Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. 

Civilians, and especially minority groups such as Christians, have been caught in the crosshairs of the conflict. “The absence of a single central government to impose law and order in the country has made the situation for Christians precarious. The level of violence against Christians in Libya is now categorized as 'extreme,'” according to the Open Doors country report. 

Libyan Christians need protection

In January, the family of 27-year old Romany Adly Ayoub suddenly lost touch with him. Romany, a Coptic Christian from El Wadi village in Egypt, had left for Libya in 2014 where he opened a clothes store to support his family back home. According to a local source in contact with the family, the family alerted authorities, then received news Romany had been kidnapped and killed, allegedly by the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia, which tried to force him to renounce his Christian faith.  

 ‘All Libyans are presumed to be Muslim’ 

Libyans who convert from Islam to Christianity also face pressure. “Our sources confirm that [they] are often arrested and detained on blasphemy charges on the grounds of sharing Christian materials online,” said Open Doors, Middle East Concern and the World Evangelical Alliance in the report they jointly submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee.  

“They face pressure by police and family members to return to Islam through the use of physical and psychological coercion. All Libyans are presumed to be Muslim, therefore anyone who leaves Islam experiences significant pressure and is vulnerable to violence and attacks from family and community, as well as from the state.” 

Libya has signed up to a range of international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which affirms the freedom of religion or belief. Libya’s 2017 draft constitution, however, establishes Islam as the country’s religion and Sharia law as the main source of legislation, with no guarantees of religious freedom or non-discrimination based on religion or belief. And while the Libyan Penal Code does not outlaw apostacy, its language is broad enough for Christians to be targeted with blasphemy charges.   

“In their previous review, the (Human Rights) Committee did not include any religious freedom-related issues for Libya,” said an Open Doors’ advocacy spokesperson. “We hope that this time religious freedom will be considered as an issue of concern and that as a result, pressure on Libya will translate into positive impact on Christians in the country.”  

The Libya report that was submitted to the Human Rights Committee, can be found here 

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