06/03/2005, 00.00
INDIA - SAUDI ARABIA
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The infamous Muttawa tortures Christians, says Brian O'Connor

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Indian Christian who was freed last after a media campaign on his behalf calls on the press and on international human rights organisations to save the eight Christians arrested in Riyadh.

Hubli (AsiaNews) – Brian O'Connor, the Indian Protestant who was freed from a Saudi prison last year after a large-scale, international campaign promoted by AsiaNews, said he was praying for the Christians recently arrested in Saudi Arabia. He also calls on international organisations and the media to do something to gain their release.

"I am deeply saddened and worried for [the fate of] the eight Christians detained in Riyadh by the Muttawa (religious police)," he said. "These people need all our support because I know what it means to be in prison in Saudi Arabia".

What happened to them "brings back memories of my own arrest on false charges and of my own prison term (in al-Hair Penitentiary in Riyadh)," he added. "I am praying that all eight, some of whom are fellow Indians, may be spared the Muttawa's torture and be freed very soon."

Mr O'Connor, who is originally from the south-eastern Indian state of Karnataka, was abducted by the Muttawa on March 25, 2004, in front of his home in Riyadh.

After being tortured for 24 hours in a mosque, the police ordered him to sign a statement admitting to selling liquor, but he repeatedly refused. During those hours, he was subjected to Muttawa's attempts to convert him to Islam.

In the meantime, his home was searched and all his Bibles, Christian CDs and videos were confiscated.

The following day, March 26, he was taken to the Olaya Police Station and eventually moved to al-Hair Penitentiary where he stayed till he was freed.

"The Muttawa won't stop; its members are brutal and ruthless. Even though the ruling family said that non Muslims could practice their faith in private, the religious police makes no difference between private and public," O'Connor explained.

On September 15, he was formally charged on four counts: liquor sale, drug possession, proselytising and possession of pornographic material.

On October 20, he was found guilty on one—selling liquor—and sentenced to 300 lashes and 10 months in jail.

Throughout it all, Mr O'Connor steadfastly maintained his innocence, admitting only to organising private Bible studies and prayers in accordance with what Saudi authorities allowed.

"Christians are easy targets of the Muttawa," he noted, because "the religious cops are ever vigilant against their activities and gatherings; they arrest Christians even without evidence, or simply based on the slightest suspicion of evangelical activities."

For him, it is time for international media and organisations to act on behalf of the eight detainees.

It his case, the vast campaign launched by AsiaNews and backed my many international organisations led to his unexpected release on November 1, last year.

"Unless powerful Christian organisations like 'Christian Solidarity Worldwide' and the 'All India Christian Council' rally against the persecution of Christians in Saudi Arabia, Christians will continue to be thrown into prison," he stressed.

"I, too, would not be free without the actions of AsiaNews and all those who adhered to the campaign," he insisted, adding that human rights organisations should speak out against this "latest case of human rights violation".

Brian O'Connor is now based in Hubli, a town in Karnataka, where he is a full-time preacher. He teaches and preaches in mission churches in local cities and around the countryside.

He is now getting over his ordeal and his health continues to improve. People who know him say that he is even looking healthier than before he went to Saudi Arabia looking for a job.

"Preaching is my mission now, [. . .] proclaiming the Good News.  Now I bear witness of His Power with my own life, and my testimony motivates many people to change their lives and accept Jesus as Saviour".

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