01/31/2012, 00.00
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Thirty-five christians arrested, beaten and insulted for praying in Saudi Arabia

A group of Ethiopians are arrested at the home of one of them. They are accused of “unlawful mingling” among unmarried people of the opposite sex. For Human Rights Watch, this is another violation of religious freedom.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Thirty five Ethiopian Christians were arrested, beaten and subjected to all sorts of abuses after they were caught at a prayer meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch reported. Now they could be expelled.

The 6 men and 29 women were arrested in mid-December because they had met to pray during Advent. They were first taken to a police station, than to Buraiman prison, two women and one man, told Human Rights Watch. Whilst in custody, the women were forced to strip and undergo arbitrary body cavity searches; the men were beaten and insulted them as “unbelievers”.

The prisoners complained about inadequate medical care (one suffers from diabetes) and discrimination between Saudis and non-Saudis in terms of toilets.

Ten days after the arrest, some of the prisoners were taken to court, where they were forced to affix their fingerprints to a document without being allowed to read it.

Officials told the group that they were being charged with “unlawful mingling” of unmarried people of the opposite sex, which is banned in Saudi Arabia.

For Human Rights Watch, this is the latest example of religious intolerance.

In 2006, Saudi authorities did promise the United States that it would “guarantee and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice,” and “ensure that members of the [religious police] do not detain or conduct investigations of suspects, implement punishment, [or] violate the sanctity of private homes.”

In Saudi Arabia, Islam is the only lawful religion and public worship of any religion other than Islam remains prohibited throughout the kingdom.

In October, Saudi Arabia set up the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue and funded by Saudi Arabia.
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