(AsiaNews/ Agencies) - Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians will remain in jail in
Jeddah. They were arrested in December 2011 when they were caught praying in a
private home. On Thursday, International Christian Concern (ICC), a US-based
Christian rights group, appealed for their release, noting contradictions in Saudi
claims. Local authorities in fact refuse to acknowledge that the 29 women and 6
men were imprisoned for religious reasons. What is known is that they have been
beaten, subjected to interrogations and strip searches.
Saudi Arabia, Islam is the only religion allowed. However in 2006, the kingdom's
authorities told the United States that they would "guarantee and protect the
right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for
religious practice". Public expressions
of other religions would by contrast remain illegal.
15 December 2011, 35 Ethiopian immigrants gathered in the private home of one
of them to pray during the Advent of Christmas. The religious police (Muttawa)
burst into the house and arrested those present.
Christians were first taken to a police station, and later moved to Buraiman
Prison. Women were forced to strip for a body search; the men were beaten and
insulted as "unbelievers".
days after their arrest, the prisoners were taken to court where they were
forced to affix their fingerprints on a paper they were not allowed to read.
initial charge was "gender mingling", a term that refers to situations when
unrelated members of the opposite sex are found together.
May, the US Congress asked the Saudi Embassy in Washington to explain the
situation. Embassy officer Sarah Nezamuddin told a Congressional office that
the Christians had all been arrested for involvement in drug and human
trafficking, a story she later changed to issues relating to their work
permits. For Congress officials, the Christians did not commit any crime and
should be released.
to ICC sources, a few days after the meeting in Washington, the prisoners were
brought to a court for the first time in six months. After two hearings, the
authorities locked them up against without specifying reasons for the detention
or when they would be released.
continue to be baffled by the inability of the Saudi government to explain
exactly why 35 Christians attending a prayer service at a private home were
suddenly arrested almost six months ago," said ICC Advocacy Officer Ryan Morgan.
story keeps changing, and it is very troubling to think that a key US ally in
the Middle East may be lying to US government officials about why they are
arresting religious minorities," Morgan added.