Libya Fact Box

Libya has been in chaos since the fall of the Gadaffi regime in 2011. Islamist groups have filled the power vacuum and conditions for Christians have worsened. A UN-backed Government of National Accord was installed in a heavily-guarded naval base in Tripoli in March 2016, but faced opposition from rival authorities and many militias. The two main rival authorities in Tripoli and Tobruk signed a permanent ceasefire in October 2020 and a provisional Government of National Unity was formed in March 2021, but this has not prevented continuing violent clashes between rival militias.

Christians in Libya

Libya’s constitution of 2011 declares Islam to be the state religion (although it adds that “the state shall guarantee for non-Muslims the freedom to practice their religious rituals“) and Sharia is the principle source of legislation. Muslims who choose to leave Islam are likely to face severe sanctions from the security forces, especially in areas where Islamic militias operate as de facto police.

Libyans are forbidden from meeting for non-Islamic religious gatherings and it is illegal to bring Arabic Bibles into the country. The very few Libyan Christians (estimated at about 150) can only meet in secret as they are at risk from family and community as well as from Islamist militants, whose influence has led to a rise in intolerance towards Christians. Under the Gaddafi regime the secret police restricted Christian activities but the main source of persecution now comes from Islamist militants.

The church in Libya is composed almost entirely of foreign migrant workers and refugees, who are allowed to have churches, but in recent years Islamist extremists have attacked church buildings in Libya’s main cities and have murdered many expatriate Christians.

Libya is home to a large community of Egyptians, with most working in the construction sector, and in February 2015 Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of twenty Egyptian Copts who had been kidnapped between December 2014 and January 2015 in Sirte, a city that was a safe haven for Islamist militants.

In April 2015, Islamic State released a video showing the massacre of thirty more Christians in Libya, mostly Ethiopian, of whom 15 were beheaded and 15 were shot in the back of the head.

(Sources: BBC, Church in Chains Global Guide, Irish Times, MENAFN, World Watch List, World Watch Monitor)