Six Christians face potential death penalties in Libya
Article 207 of Libya's penal code penalizes any attempt to spread views that aim to "alter fundamental constitutional principles, or the fundamental structures of the social order, or overthrow the state, and anyone who possesses books, leaflets, drawings, slogans or any other items that promote their cause."
The tribulation of the six Christians started in March, when authorities of western Libya detained them for faith-related reasons. Libya’s Internal Security Agency reported in the official statement that the arrests were made to “stop an organized gang action aiming to solicit and make people leave Islam.” Now they may face the death penalty after being charged of converting to Christianity and encouraging others to do the same. One of the believers is a 22-year-old woman who released a video about her conversion to Christianity which took place when she was 15 years old.
Even though the constitution of Libya guarantees non-Muslims to practise their religion freely, in reality, both native Christians and those passing through from other countries face extreme violence. There are 35,400 Christians in the predominantly Muslim Libya. This makes up 0.5% of the country’s 7 million population.
The influence of militant Islamic extremist groups is a significant concern, because there is no central government to maintain law and order. Christians are constantly targeted, kidnapped and often murdered.
The Christian community is small but growing, though the majority are foreign workers. Migrants passing through Libya from sub-Saharan Africa pose a major challenge for the country. Many of these are Christians, and their journey is highly dangerous whilst travelling through. They are likely to encounter harassment and threats from Islamic extremist groups, or be abducted and used as slave labour by organised crime groups and human traffickers.
If a Libyan from a Muslim background becomes a Christian, they face intense pressure and abuse from their family and the wider community to make them renounce their faith, or even be killed. Christians who publicly express their faith and try to share the gospel with others are likely to face arrest or retribution from extremist groups. The risks of being openly Christian are so high that it’s almost impossible to meet up in groups for fellowship.