Christians arrested in Saudi Arabia

Four Christians of African origin have been arrested for praying in Saudi Arabia under that country's strict religious laws.

AsiaNews reports that all the Christians come from eastern African. The arrest was carried out by the notorious muttawa (religious police) during a prayer service in a private residence.

Ten police armed with wooden clubs broke into a private residence in Jeddah, the second largest city in the Kingdom, arresting the four Christians who were conducting a prayer service. The two Ethiopians and two Eritreans are reportedly still detained in a prison for immigrants in Jeddah.

When the raid of the muttawa took place, more than 100 Eritrean, Ethiopian and Filipino Christians were gathered in the house in Al-Rowaise district in Jeddah. The worshippers invited the police to sit down; the latter waited for three hours until the service was over before arresting the four group leaders.

A Christian who spoke with the detainees by telephone reported they were "doing fine, with okay morale." But he said he did not know how they were being treated, or whether they were undergoing interrogation.

According to AsiaNews, the government of Saudi Arabia forbids the practice of any religious other than the fundamentalist Wahhabite version of Islam. Mission and any public manifestation like carrying a Bible, a crucifix, a rosary beads and praying in public, are forbidden. The muttawa, known for their ruthlessness and violent torture practices, enforces the ban.

In recent years, thanks to international pressure, the Saudi kingdom has allowed the practice of other faiths, but only in private. However the religious police continue to arrest, imprison and torture people who practice their religion, even if they do so in private.

In the Saudi Kingdom it is not permitted to build places of worship, churches or chapels. There are no exact statistics about the Christian presence, composed largely of migrant workers.

Arrested: four Christians found praying at home (AsiaNews 19/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Middle East, Saudi Arabia (International Christian Concern)

Report suggests up to 170,000 persecuted Christians die every year (CathNews 24/10/02)
Islam not as tolerant as us: Cardinal (CathNews 2/1/04)
Pell affirms commitment to dialogue with Muslims (CathNews 8/5/06)

Excerpts from textbooks produced in Saudi Arabia (Mercury News 18/6/06)

21 Jun 2006