Ezzat Hakim Atallah, 45, who was among the Copts detained by the Libyan security authorities in Benghazi since 13 February for allegedly preaching Christianity, today died in
Tripoli while in police custody. Atallah had been moved from Benghazi to Tripoli by the Libyan government-affiliated security apparatus, called the Preventative Security, in order for him to be questioned by the public prosecutor in Tripoli.
Tortured to extract a confession
Atallah comes from a modest family in Assiut, Upper Egypt, and leaves behind a wife and two children: Andrew, 15; and Sheri, 11, in Benghazi. His brother Effat told Watani that Ezzat had been caught by the Libyan authorities on 13 February as he was working at his job in a shop that sells mobile phone accessories in Suq al-Hadiqa in Benghazi. He managed to inform his wife seconds before his mobile phone and car were confiscated. Through his Libyan partner, his wife Ragaa’ was able to locate him and, after much difficulty, to obtain permission to visit him three days later. She says she found her husband in very sorry state, his body full of bruises. He told her he was being subjected to brutal treatment, torture, and humiliation in order to extract from him incriminating confessions. Atallah was moved to hospital last Wednesday for treatment, but was later returned to detention.
Effat Atallah claims that when Ragaa’ enquired why Ezzat was being held, she found out there were no specific charges against him; he was caught because his name was on the contact list of Sherif Ramsis who owns a publishing business and was charged with smuggling books into Libya. Even though Ramsis testified that Atallah had nothing to do with that business, Atallah was detained and tortured in order to extract a confession. On 25 February, Effat Atallah says, his brother Ezzat was moved to Tripoli.
Demand for after-death report rejected
Effat Atallah and his brother-in-law Kamal Ramzy told Watani that they delegated a Libyan lawyer, Yunis Abdel-Salam, to represent their brother in Tripoli. It was the lawyer who informed them of Ezzat’s death today. The lawyer said that, together with Atallah’s wife Ragga’, they had demanded that an after-death report by the official medical authorities in Tripoli, but their demand was rejected. He also said they had been trying to get in touch with the Egyptian consulate in Tripoli, but had been getting no reply.
More than 100 Copts had been detained by the Libyan authorities in Benghazi last February on charges of preaching Christianity. The exact number of the detainees is not known, especially that more than 50 of them have been released and deported to Egypt while others are yet being caught. The returnees to Egypt claim that the number stands at more than 200.
Five Copts are still held pending investigation. The five are: Ezzat Hakim Atallah, Eissa Ibrahim, Emad Seddiq, Adel Shaker, and Sherif Ramsis who owns a print shop. The lawyer Naguib Gabrail of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, told Watani that the names of the first four were found on the contact list on Ramsis’s cell phone.
The Libyan authorities claim the detainees were “preaching Christianity in the Libyan Muslim community”, and base their charges on the fact that the Copts had in their possession Bibles
and Christian books and pictures “that exceed what is needed for personal use”. The Copts were also said to have been suspect because most of them had crosses tattooed on their wrists, a very common tradition among Copts who usually have their toddlers and children tattooed at a very early age.
Egyptian President and government to blame
Copts, especially those in Libya, are severely disappointed with President Mursi and the Egyptian government for their inaction regarding the crisis.
President Mursi met the Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in Cairo last Thursday, to discuss Egyptian Libyan relations; but in no way broached the outstanding case of the Copts detained in Libya.
A number of Coptic youth movements are planning a protest tomorrow evening in front of the Libyan embassy in Cairo. They are demanding that those Copts who are still detained should be released and adequately compensated, and that the Libyan authorities should apologise to the Copts in Egypt.
Anba Pachomeus, Archbishop of Beheira, Matrouh, and Pentapolis (Libya), says that it defies reason to claim that more than 100 persons should leave their country with the purpose of preaching. It is consequently unacceptable, he insists, that they should be detained and tortured on mere suspicions with no clear evidence.
10 March 2013