New Delhi (AsiaNews) - In Saudi society, "discrimination and intolerance" are an "evident" matter of fact, exacerbated by the "unlimited powers" enjoyed by the muttawa - the kingdom's religious police - who perpetrate crimes, violence and promote a system of widespread corruption. This is the statement of Brian Savio O'Connor, a Christian of Indian origin, for 7 months and 7 days a prisoner, chained and tortured in a Saudi jail on charges of proselytizing.
For his release AsiaNews had launched an international campaign. We asked the 41-year Christian in Karnataka – who has launched a centre for orphaned children, open to any religious faith - to comment on the results of an investigation into the political and social situation in Saudi Arabia, carried out with a poll conducted in November 2009 by Pechter Middle East Polls, a private polling institute based in Princeton (United States).
Below the AsiaNews interview with Brian O'Connor (pictured with family):
Mr O'Connor, where does the problem with corruption begin?
Unless the Saudi kingdom, permit Religious Freedom and respect the Spirit of Reciprocity, corruption will continue to plague the Saudi Kingdom and have disastrous social consequences. The ‘muttawas’ have unquestionable powers and yield their powers to harras people of other faiths, evidence is planted, prayers in the privacy of the homes are cause for arrests and jail terms, While these are also the ways and avenues for corruption of these ‘police.
What was your experience of corruption in jail?
[Prison] is a haven for corruption, any favours could be ‘bought for a price’ from the jailors, and for the non- muslims, it was even worse, they would be attempts by the jail authorities to subtly get us to renounce my faith and embrace Islam, and this was the case with most who were thrown into jail on fabricated(faith based) cases. The corruption had even stooped to a level that even a change of name to a Mohammedan one sufficed to some fringe benefits inside the jail. It is significant that arbitrary powers of the Muttawas, have spurred the rise of religious fundamentalism which has implications for social development, for social justice and human rights.
Can you describe to readers your days in the Saudi Kingdom?
In Saudi society, discrimination and in tolerance toward non-Muslims is evident and it is worrisome, that all this lacks transparency, to there can be cases of indiscriminate harassment of non- Muslims leading to human rights abuses. In my humble opinion, it is the rigidity of the Saudi society, and denial of religious freedom that, engenders fundamentalisms. However, from recent account, in Riyadh (where I lived), the muttawahs have lessened their vigilance and harassment/intimidation of private worship and this is encouraging.
What according to you can help Saudi emerge from this corruption and extremism?
It is known that in the Saudi Kingdom Freedom of religion is legally not recognized and this opens avenues for legal sanction for corruption. In order to weed out the source of corruption, it is urgent that by Law, the Saudi authorities ensure protection for private worship for all religious groups, curb harassment of religious groups, and promote tolerance toward all religions.
What about Muslims, are things easy for them?
For our Muslims brothers and sisters, the issue of Religion does not arise; however, such strict and rigid laws on Religious Freedom are bound to impact society as well- even for our Muslim brethren. From my experience, on the one hand the clerics attempt to impose a dogmatic world view, and dogmatic ways of interpreting truth, religious texts and the world with intent to control the individual and/or society as a whole. While on the other, they discourage those who challenge their world vision and staunchly oppose any democratic values and, pluralism.
How has life been for you after your jail term in Saudi?
I am married, my wife Liza and I have two children. Here in Hubli, Karnataka, we have stated a “Disciple Training Centre’, transmitting faith to pastors and the lay people. Everyday I pray for the Saudi Kingdom, for the rulers and administrators that Freedom of Religious may be permitted for the good of the Saudi kingdom and for its people.