12/17/2004, 00.00
saudi arabia
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Saudi Christian convert arrested and jailed

Jeddah (AsiaNews) – A Saudi citizen converted to Christianity has been arrested and jailed.  Emad Alaabadi was taken into custody last November 29, at Hofuf, a town in eastern Saudi Arabia, but the news was reported only a few days ago by the International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington-based human rights group.  AsiaNews local sources have confirmed the report, and also say that he "is not the only Saudi Christian in jail at the moment: there are also others".

According to news obtained by ICC, other Christians – at least 3 or 4 – appear to have been arrested along with Emad.  The presence of Christians in Saudi prisons had also been confirmed by Brian O'Connor, in an interview with AsiaNews.  Brian Savio O'Connor is a Protestant Indian who was deported from Saudi Arabia after being tortured and held in prison for "having preached Christianity".  Upon his return to India, O'Connor told AsiaNews that "there are still many other Christians that need your help in Saudi prisons".

Last November 29, Amad was intercepted by the Muttawa, Saudi religion police, while he was driving his children home from school.  The police escorted them home and then took Amad to the local prison.  Later he was transferred to Jeddah, were he is currently imprisoned.  On December 4, he managed to contact his mother, who lives in Australia, by telephone, to let her know what had happened and where he was. The mother reported that he sounded very weak: ICC said that the Muttawa agents probably tortured the Christian-faith Amad to reconvert him to Islam.

Alaabadi is 30 years old and has 4 children.  He became Christian 2 years ago, but it is not known to what denomination he belongs.

Fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam is the only expression of religion allowed in Saudi Arabia.  There is no religious freedom in the country, even if Saudi officials have been tolerating the private practice of other religions.  However, the Saudi religion police, the Muttawa, continues to persecute Christians in their homes where they meet to pray. 

The construction of churches or chapels is not allowed in the country.  Muslims make up 93.7% of the Saudi population of 21.6 million people.  Christians, who are almost entirely foreigners, account for 3.7% of the population.  There are 800,000 Catholics.  There are no exact figures on the number of Saudi Christians. (LF)
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