11/03/2004, 00.00
INDIA - SAUDI ARABIA
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India's Christians elated by O'Connor's release

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Indian movement for civil rights and religious freedom is elated that Brian Savio O'Connor, a Christian imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for the last seven months, was freed on November 1. This is what John Dayal, a well-known human rights and minority activist, wrote in a press release announcing the event. No conditions were placed on Mr O'Connor's release. The Indian national was finally cleared of all the charges that led him to be sentenced to prison.

Brian Savio O'Connor is a Protestant from the Indian state of Karnakata. He was languishing in jail in Riyadh since March of this year following his abduction and torture by Saudi religious police. During his detention, his father and sister passed away.

A colleague of O'Connor, who was employed in the luggage department of Saudi Arabia's national airline, saw the latter in prison and said that "the greying hair and beard make Brian look much older than his 36 years".

O'Connor's release follows an international campaign on his behalf organised by John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, an umbrella group that brings together different Christian denominations in India.

On June 3, Mr Dayal wrote a letter to Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud asking that his compatriot be given a "fair trial". At the same time, an international campaign in favour of Mr O'Connor was launched. Thousands of Christians from around the world sent postcards in support of the imprisoned Indian. Saudi authorities were not pleased at the campaign in favour of a Christian jailed on religious grounds. In Saudi Arabia there is no real freedom for any religion other than Islam.

O'Connor's trial began in the summer. Charges were presented in September. They included sale of alcoholic beverages, drug use, possession of pornographic material and spreading Christianity. The accused always claimed his innocence and was backed by his Saudi employers. On October 20, he was found guilty of selling liquor and sentenced to ten months in jail and 300 lashes. The other charges were dismissed.

On October 26, John Dayal asked the Saudi King to show clemency to O'Connor. He also called on India' President Abdul Kalam and Foreign Minister K Natwar Singh to "use their good offices to free" him since India's diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia "was lethargic in the first weeks of Brian's detention and only met him in prison later".

Mr O'Connor was placed on a flight for Mumbai on November 1. On arrival, he was met by various friends and acquaintances.

Speaking on the occasion of Mr O'Connor's release, John Dayal called on the Indian government to act "with greater speed in extending aid to Indians arrested abroad on false charges." (LF)

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