Courthouse in Misrata: via twitter

Last week, the Court of Appeal of Misrata, in Libya, sentenced to death for apostasy a Christian who had converted from Islam. The decision was reported by Middle East Concern (MEC), and confirmed by other Christian NGOs with a presence in Libya.

MEC reported that the man, who converted four years ago, was arrested by militias, was not granted legal representation, and was also sentenced to pay the expenses for the publication of the decision through a local newspaper and a radio station.

But is apostasy really punished with the death penalty in Libya? Yes, according to the interpretation of the Sharia, the Islamic law, prevailing in Libya, where local scholars maintain that not only male (as the laws mandate in other Muslim states) but also female apostates should be executed.

The situation is, however, less clear as far as civil law is concerned. The General National Congress, i.e., the legislative authority of Libya from 2012 to 2014, did enact a law mandating that apostates who refuse to repent should be executed. However, as the Libyan civil war continued, the General National Congress, pursuant a United-Nations-supported agreement between various parties, agreed to dissolve itself. The new Parliament declared that all the laws passed by the General National Congress were automatically cancelled.

The old Catholic Church in Misrata. From Twitter.

However, this was the Parliament sitting in Tobruk. In Tripoli, there is a Libyan Supreme Court that for years claimed to represent all the factions in the civil war and to be the custodian of national legal unity, although recently it has also been somewhat involved in the conflict. The Supreme Court declared the decision of the Tobruk Parliament to cancel the laws passed by the General National Congress between 2012 and 2014 invalid, with the consequence that the anti-apostasy law should be still in force.

So concluded the Court of Appeal of Misrata that sentenced the Christian to death. However, the administration of justice in Libya is highly irregular and influenced by pressures from the various militias. We can only hope that international intervention would save the Christian from being executed and persuade the key players in the Libyan conflict that laws calling for executing the apostates should have no place in civilized countries.