Riyadh deports 35 Ethiopian Christians for praying (JERUSALEM POST) By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT 08/05/12)
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BERLIN – Saudi Arabia deported 35 Ethiopian Christians last week
after incarcerating them for over seven months for praying in advance
of the Christmas season in December 2011, according to Christian
media outlets and NGOs.
International Christian Concern wrote on its website that “Saudi
Arabia deported the last of the 35 Ethiopian Christians who were
detained for holding an all-night prayer vigil.
Saudi security officials assaulted, harassed and pressured the
Christians to convert to Islam during their incarceration.”
“We have arrived home safe. We believe that we are released as the
result of the pressure exerted by ICC and others,” one of the
Ethiopians told ICC.
“The Saudi officials don’t tolerate any other religions other than
Islam. They consider non-Muslims as unbelievers. They are full of
hatred towards non-Muslims.”
On December 15, Saudi authorities raided a private religious function
in Jeddah, a city on the Red Sea coast in western Saudi Arabia, and
arrested 35 Ethiopian Christian workers.
According to human rights groups and the US government’s Commission
on International Religious Freedom, the 29 women and six men faced
beatings and sexual assault.
The commission noted that “some of the men detained have alleged that
they were physically abused during interrogations and the female
detainees reportedly were subjected to intrusive and humiliating body
cavity searches. While no formal charges have been made, the
detainees reportedly were charged with ‘illicit mingling’ with the
opposite sex. Saudi authorities informed sponsors of some of the
detainees that their employees were being held because of illegal
religious activities. The detainees also reportedly face imminent
Since 2004, the US State Department has described Saudi Arabia as
a “country of particular concern” for its repression of religious
The imprisonment of the 35 Ethiopians garnered scarce media attention.
The ICC spearheaded a campaign in Washington to force the Saudis to
“This incident underscores the troubling reality that there is no
religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. The fact is that in Saudi Arabia a
person is not free to practice their faith even in the privacy of
their own home. While Saudi Arabia strictly bans all public displays
of faith that are not Islamic, storming into a private home and
imprisoning immigrants exposes the real nature of religious freedom
in the kingdom – it doesn’t exist unless you’re a Muslim who
practices a government-approved Islamic faith,” Jordan Sekulow,
executive director of the Washington- based American Center for Law
and Justice, wrote to The Jerusalem Post by email on Saturday.
Sekulow, whose organization works to promote religious freedom
abroad, added, “Also disturbing is the all-too-common tactic used by
governments to alter charges placed against Christians. Such a move
does nothing to conceal the fact that these Christians are being
persecuted for their faith. No matter how the government attempts to
position their persecution, the fact is clear – Christians are
labeled criminals because of their faith. Saudi Arabia is one of a
number of nations that fails to protect the rights of religious
minorities – including Christians and Jews.
“While efforts to protect religious freedom in Saudi Arabia are
woefully inadequate, it is our hope that that incidents like this one
will call attention to this growing problem in Saudi Arabia and other
In an email to the Post on Saturday, Ben Cohen, a New York-based
journalist who has written extensively on persecution of Christians,
wrote, “The history of relations between the Saudis and the West is a
shabby history of collusion with religious intolerance.
“In March this year, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn
Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, declared that it was necessary to ‘destroy
all the churches in the region.’” Cohen, who co-wrote an article in
The Wall Street Journal last week on Iran’s persecution of
Christians, added, “This week, you have Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton saying, ‘Religious freedom is a cherished constitutional
value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.’
These are fundamentally contradictory messages, and I don’t see that
the Saudi monarchy and clerics are remotely sensitive to our
standpoint – and they won’t be until we start exercising real
diplomatic and economic pressure.”
The Saudi government assured the international community in 2006 that
it would guarantee religious freedom in the kingdom where only Islam
is permitted to be practiced.
The Saudi government advocates a radical form of Sunni Islam that is
frequently embraced by terrorists.
On ICC’s website, the organization’s Jonathan Racho said, “Saudi
Arabian officials clearly demonstrated their utter disregard for
religious freedom by arresting, mistreating and deporting the
Christians for holding a prayer meeting. The Saudis deceive the
international community by pretending to promote tolerance among
followers of different religious beliefs; however, in reality they
don’t tolerate any other religion besides Wahhabi Islam. The
international community must pressure Saudi Arabia to respect
religious freedom.” (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 08/05/12)
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