Egyptians protest death of Christian in Libya, burn flag, demand freedom for others still held

Protesters burned a flag belonging to the Libyan Embassy in Cairo on Monday to protest the death in prison of an Egyptian Christian suspected of proselytizing in Libya.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Ezzat Atallah likely died of natural causes. He suffered from diabetes and a heart ailment.

Protesters said they suspect that poor prison conditions and possible abuse may have contributed to his death.

"The killing of Copts is illegal," chanted the crowd of 100, mostly Coptic Christians. Some draped an Egyptian flag over the Libyan Embassy's gates.

Four foreigners are still in prison in Libya for alleged espionage and proselytizing. They are a Swedish-American, a South Korean, a South African and an Egyptian.

Last week, Egypt's Foreign Ministry intervened to win release from Libya of 55 Egyptians also suspected of trying to spread Christianity in the predominantly Muslim nation. Thirty-five of them were deported for illegally entering the country, while 20 were cleared to stay in Libya.

The protesters are also angry over reports that around 100 Coptic Egyptians are being held by an ultraconservative Islamist Libyan militia.

"I joined the vigil here to call for the release of Christians detained for simply possessing Bibles and portraits (of Jesus)," said 22-year-old university student Mina Karas.

Karas, like others in the crowd, said Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi must do more to help those detained in Libya, where hundreds of thousands of Egyptians work.

Lawyer Sameh Saad said government officials working under Morsi were lobbying to release a group of people with suspected links to the Muslim Brotherhood who were detained in the United Arab Emirates, but had done little to help Christian Egyptians in Libya.

"Egyptians should not be arrested arbitrarily (in Libya) just because they are Christian," he said. "Atallah had a business there and his wife and children. Why would he jeopardize his life?"