The 'Save O'Connor' campaign, an example of Internet solidarity
Rome (AsiaNews) The news that an Indian Christian, Brian Savio O'Connor, had been jailed in Saudi Arabia started to spread in Italy and Europe in late May 2004. Indian Catholic activist John Dayal wrote King Fahd, Saudi Arabia's ruler about O'Connor's story, his arrest and abduction on March 25, his torture by Saudi religious police, the Muttawah. Soon, Mr Dayal's appeal was quickly moving along the virtual grapevine of the Internet. AsiaNews and a few other international agencies were among the first to report the news.
On June 6, an Italian Catholic Websitewww.stranocristiano.comfollowed Mr Dayal's appeal and launched a 'Save O'Connor' campaign to gain the release of the Indian national and show that his captivity was based on religious motives hiding behind false charges.
Assuntina Morresi, the mind behind the campaign initiative, wrote: "We join John Dayal in asking that Brian Savio O'Connor be set free. Religious freedom is a universal right and no nation can call itself civilised if it denies this right."
This 'e-campaign' provided a brief written appeal in favour of Mr O'Connor that people could send via e-mail to Saudi Arabia's Ambassador in Rome, Mohammed Bin Nawaf Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Saudi Mission at the United Nations and Italy's representative in Riyadh, Armando Sanguigni.
Initially, the e-campaign apparently went nowhere: no reaction, no statements from the Saudis. Never the less, AsiaNews and advocacy groups like Middle East Concern interested in the O'Connor case started noticing increased diplomatic pressure by some countries on Saudi authorities for O'Connor's release. The governments of the US and Canada raised the issue with their counterpart in Riyadh. India's Embassy in Saudi Arabia, albeit reluctantly, became aware that international media, foreign embassies, governments and ordinary citizens were increasingly worried about the fate of its citizen.
In July, Freedom House, a US group advocating religious freedom, asked US secretary of State Colin Powell to confront the Saudis with the O'Connor case during his visit to the Saudi capital.
In a short time, Christian Websites of different confessions started to campaign in earnest. English- and Spanish-language Websites, US, British and Spanish advocacy groups, some major Italian newspapers become aware of the 'Save O'Connor' campaign and informed their readers and members.
A write-in campaign was launched. Postcards and letters started reaching Mr O'Connor in his prison jail, all expressing support and solidarity. From his jail in Olaya Prison, Brian O'Connor let it be known that he was grateful to all those who provided him with moral support in their messages and prayers.
Information about the e-campaigns also reached the Saudi court authorities in Deerah (Riyadh) where O'Connor's trial was taking place. Saudi judges saw in the postcards, letters and messages proof that Mr O'Connor was the "leader of a group backed by foreign forces bent on promoting Christianity in the country".
The rest, as they say, is history: Mr O'Connor was released in early November and immediately expelled after the court was forced to reduce the charges against him to "selling alcoholic beverages". (LF)