By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
TRIPOLI (Worthy News) – Libyan Christians urged prayers Monday after a former Muslim who converted to Christianity was sentenced to death by an appeals court in western Libya, sources familiar with the case said.
The young man, who accepted Jesus about four years ago, was reportedly detained several times during the past few years for abandoning Islam. “They have tried to force him to recant his faith [in Christ], but he has refused,” Christian charity Middle East Concern (MEC) told Worthy News.
The name of the Christian was not immediately released amid security concerns and expected behind-the-scenes negotiations. “Due to the lack of the rule of law and official law enforcement agencies in Libya, militias act as police, intelligence agency and army,” MEC added.
The convert was required to publish the verdict in a local newspaper and on a local radio station, as well as display it outside his residence and the court. But it wasn’t clear whether that had been done.
He did not have legal representation during the proceedings, Christians said.
In remarks obtained by Worthy News, Libyan Christians requested prayer “for this brave and bold brother to know the peace of Jesus and the comfort of the Holy Spirit during his ordeal.”
They said they also pray that “the death sentence would be halted and a fair trial held” and for the man “to be released immediately and for his safety and well-being in the future.”
Additionally, the Christians clarified they asked for prayers from Christians worldwide to pray “for peace, stability, and tolerance in this war-torn country.”
Islamic Libya has no law against “apostasy” or abandoning Islam, which means Christian converts are usually tried for “treason,” according to well-informed Christians.
“However, this court based its decision on a law enacted by the General National Congress, the elected legislative body between 2012 and 2014. Under that law, an apostate from Islam must be executed if they do not recant,” MEC recalled.
In recent years the country has been a critical springboard for migrants heading for Europe and a source of international tension as rival governments in the west and east seek to establish nationwide control.
“All the laws enacted by the General National Congress were canceled by the current Tobruk-based parliament, elected in 2014,” MEC said.
Yet, “as part of a continuing power struggle between the administrations based in [the capital] Tripoli and Tobruk, the Supreme Court in Tripoli has declared the Tobruk-based parliament illegal. This allows courts the freedom to still apply the canceled laws,” MEC said.
The announced death sentence for the Christian came after the general prosecutor in neighboring Sudan’s Central Darfur region dismissed a case against four Christian men charged with apostasy.
There are believed to be just under 35,000 Christians in Libya among the country’s roughly 7 million, mainly Sunni-Muslim population, according to Christian rights activists.
The Christian community faces difficulties as “Libya is effectively a lawless land where to be a Christian is to live a secret life of faith,” noted advocacy group Open Doors.
Besides facing prosecution for apostasy, “those who leave Islam to follow Jesus Christ face immense pressure from family to renounce their faith,” the group explained.
“Their community ostracises them, and they can be left homeless, jobless, and alone. Telling others about Jesus can lead to arrest and even violent punishment,” Open Doors added.
It has ranked Libya 4th on its annual World Watch List of 50 nations where Christians reportedly face the most persecution for their faith.
“Believers are further exposed to danger since Libya has no central government, so laws are not enforced uniformly. Targeted kidnappings and executions are always a possibility for believers,” Open Doors explained.
That also impacted women In Libya, “who generally live secluded lives under strict family control, making it extremely difficult for women who convert from Islam to Christianity. If discovered, they can face house arrest, sexual assault, forced marriage, and even so-called ‘honor-killing,’” Open Doors said.
However, “If a Libyan man becomes a Christian, consequences can include job loss, physical and mental abuse, and even ex-communication from the family. Because men are the family providers, the stress of being unable to fulfill that role due to persecution can cause psychological distress,” the group stressed.
Libya, a primarily desert and oil-rich country with an ancient history, was known for the 42-year rule of autocratic Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – and the chaos following his departure.
He was toppled in 2011 following an armed rebellion assisted by Western military intervention. Libya, under foreign rule for centuries until it gained independence in 1951, is potentially a wealthy nation as oil was discovered soon after it gained independence.
But most struggle to survive amid fighting and uncertainty.