11/25/2004, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Christians arrested and persecuted in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh prisons are full of Christians but also Shiites and 'heretical' Sufi practitioners.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Brian Savio O'Connor's case is but the latest one in a long series of arrests, torture and abductions endured by Christians in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime's oppression of anything that is not Wahhabi Islam is raising fears among the eight million foreigners working in the desert kingdom.

Christianity is especially marked for repression. Local sources told AsiaNews that many Christians are in Saudi prisons for religious reasons.

In October 2003, the Muttawah, the Saudi religious police, arrested two Egyptian Christians. They were released a month later.

In February 2003, a foreign Christian of unknown nationality was expelled for giving an Arabic Bible to a Saudi citizen: foreigners are allowed to have Bibles in their own language, but owning one in Arabic is tantamount to proselytising, a crime that is punished with a jail sentence.

Again in 2003, an Ethiopian Christian was expelled for refusing to provide a public inquiry with information about his religious beliefs.

In early 2003, four Pakistani Christians were arrested by the Muttawah for no apparent reason: two were eventually released and expelled; nothing is known of the other two.

In May 2002, Jeddah police arrested 10 Christians from Eritrea and Ethiopia who had gathered for their weekly meeting, on a Friday, Islam's day of rest. At the time of their arrest, the police tried to incriminate them by promising them alcohol and drinks. .

In February 2002, Dennis Moreno-Lacalle, a Filipino man and the last of 14 Christians arrested in July of the previous year was released. He and other Christians from India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and his native Philippines used to gather in private homes for prayers and other religious activities. They had all been charged with "illegal Christian activities". In Prison, Muttawah agents told Mr Moreno-Lacalle that he would be freed if he converted to Islam but he steadfastly refused and for this spent six months in jail.

On January 28, 2002, International Christian Concern received a letter from three Ethiopian Christians describing the terrible violence and torture they were endured in Jeddah's Bremen Prison. At that point in time, the three men had spent six months in jail; their crime: being Christian.

There is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. With the exception of Wahhabi Islam, all other religions are banned from public life. In principle, Saudi law allows members of other confessions to worship in the privacy of their home, but in practice, this is not the case.

Lest we forget, many Shiites and Sufi* practitioners are also languishing in prison, not to mention some Saudi Muslims fighting for democracy and the respect for human rights. (LF)

 

* Sufism is a mystical form of Islamic worship. Sufi practitioners are organised into brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Many orders ("tariqas") are either Shiite or Sunni or even both. A few are neither and so constitute a separate sphere of Islam.

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