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Christians ‘tortured by Libyan militia’

Dozens of Coptic Christians were tortured inside a detention centre run by a powerful militia in eastern Libya, two recently released detainees said.

They threatened to sever our heads, they dealt with us in a brutal way

Their comments came amid a wave of attacks targeting Christians in Benghazi and the latest instance of alleged abuse by Libyan security forces.

The two, among an estimated 50 Egyptian Christians who have been detained in Libya on suspicion of proselytising, told yesterday of being rounded up in a market by gunmen who checked their right wrists for tattoos of crosses.

“They first checked our wrists searching for the crosses and if they found them, we (had to) get into their cars,” said 26-year-old Amgad Zaki from the southern city of Samalout in Minya province, 135 miles south of Cairo.

Mr Zaki said a group of men – some in uniform and some in civilian clothes – rounded up Egyptians selling clothes in a market called el-Jareed in Benghazi on February 26.

He and other Christians climbed into SUVs that he said carried the sign of Libya Shield One, one of the most powerful militias in Benghazi, which is under the command of Islamist and ex-rebel Wassam Bin Hemad.

“They shaved our heads. They threatened to sever our heads in implementation of Islamic Shariah (law) while showing us swords,” said Mr Zaki, who was interviewed on the telephone from his home after returning to Egypt earlier this month.

“They dealt with us in a very brutal way, including forcing us to insult our Pope Shenouda,” Mr Zaki said, referring to the former Coptic pontiff who died last year. He said that during four days of detention they were flogged, forced to take off their clothes in cold weather and stand at 3am outdoors on a floor covered with stones.

“I was taken to clean a bathroom, and the man pushed my head inside the toilet and sat on me,” he said.

“I was dying every day and at one point I thought, death is better than this.”

Militias have been targeting Christians, women, journalists, refugees and those considered former loyalists of Muammar Gaddafi, who was toppled and killed in Libya’s 2011 civil war.

The state relies on the militias to serve as security forces since Libya’s police and military remain in shambles. Egypt’s foreign ministry said its embassy in Libya was investigating the torture allegations. The militia that held the group claimed it treated the Coptic Christian detainees well.

However, Atef Habib, a 34-year-old vendor who is also from Minya province, also alleged mistreatment in the detention centre.

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