10/07/2010, 00.00
PHILIPPINES - SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia: conditional release for 12 Filipinos accused of proselytizing

The Catholic migrants are currently in the custody of their employers at the disposition of authorities. Saudi religious police (Muttawa) arrested them last October 1 for taking part in a Mass celebrated by a French priest. 150 other foreign Catholics were with them, whose fate remains unknown.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Saudi authorities have conditionally released the Catholic Filipino migrant worker arrested on 1 October in Riyadh along with 11 other compatriots - released Oct. 3 -, while attending a Mass along with 150 foreigners celebrated by a French priest. At present, the 12 Filipinos have been entrusted to their employers and representatives of the embassy in Manila in Saudi Arabia are negotiating with the authorities for their repatriation. The fate of the others present at the Catholic mass remains unknown.

According Exxedin H. Tago, charge d'affaires of the Philippines Embassy the 12 are not yet completely out of danger. "It is still unclear - he says - if their case was closed. They were accused of proselytizing and if the authorities deem them guilty they could return to jail”.

Saudi Arabia forbids the construction of churches, and other non-Muslim temples, the wearing of religious symbols, or hanging of images in homes. The religious police (Muttawa) has tightened controls to impose these laws. Only rarely does the government allow the celebration of Mass in private. The availability of work, however, continues to attract migrants who put up with terrible working conditions, the risk of forced conversions and sexual abuse.

In early September, a Filipino nurse employed at the Kharja Hospital died in hospital after being raped and left dying in the desert by her rapists. Two weeks later, again in Riyadh, three nurses in the National Guard Hospital were abducted and raped while returning from work and are now in serious condition.

A total of 8 million foreigners live and work in the kingdom. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) from 2007 to 2008, migration to the Middle East has seen an increase of 29.5%.
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