11/02/2004, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA

Indian Christian unconditionally deported from Saudi Arabia

Riyadh (AsiaNews/MEC) - Mr. Brian O'Connor (36), an Indian Christian, was unconditionally deported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 2nd November after 7 months and 7 days in prison. He was arrested on 25th March and formally charged with 4 offences on 15th September. On 20th October he was convicted of selling alcohol of them and sentenced to 300 lashes and 10 months in prison, the other charges having apparently been dropped.

Mr O'Connor was formally charged on 15th September with possession and sale of alcohol, possession of pornographic videos, possession of Bibles and preaching Christianity. He denied the first two charges, which even his boss at Saudia Airways said was false. He told the court that the bibles he had were openly brought through customs without objection and that he began holding Bible studies in his home for expatriate Christians after the authorities stated in the press on 9th April 2003 that non-Muslims could practice their religion at home. The court ordered an investigation into the latter claim.

On 20th October, Mr. O'Connor was taken to court again and told that he had been convicted of selling alcohol, and sentenced to 10 months in prison plus 300 lashes. He refused to accept this decision, effectively appealing to a higher court despite being told that the sentence might be increased. There was no mention of the other charges.

Mr. O'Connor was arrested on 25th March by the Mutawa (i.e. religious police) after being lured outside his house by a mutawa pretending to be an Egyptian who urgently needed to speak with him. The Mutawa took him to one of their offices adjacent to a Mosque where he was severely beaten. They ordered him to sign a paper admitting to selling alcohol. However he refused, stating that it wasn't true. He was then physically mistreated but continued to refuse to sign. He was pressed to convert to Islam. His home was searched and Christian videos, CDs and Bibles confiscated. The videos had been recorded from Christian satellite TV channels and were not pornographic as later alleged in court. The next day he was taken to the Olaya police station and ten days later he was moved to the Al Hair prison in Riyadh where he remained until his deportation. Earlier, a senior official at the prison had told visitors that there were irregularities in the paperwork for Mr. O'Connor's detention and he had reported his concerns to his superiors.

He was taken to Riyadh airport late on Monday 1st November, where he was allowed to embrace friends who had come hoping to see him off. He was then taken through the cargo entrance to the departure lounge where he mingled freely with other passengers. He was met at Mumbai airport by Indian friends.

Mr. O'Connor is single and has worked as a cargo agent for the Saudia Airlines since April 1998.

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