Saudi Arabia Arrests 53 Christians in Private Home Prayer
Tue, February 26, 2013
Saudi Arabia has arrested 53 Ethiopian Christians for holding a prayer meeting in a private residence in the city of Dammam, the capital of the wealthy oil province in the eastern part of the country.
The infamous religious police, known as the mutawa (Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice), raided the house, sealed it and arrested the peaceful group of foreign workers for “crime” or privately practicing their religion. In addition they charged three Christian leaders with trying to convert local Muslims to Christianity.
Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict form of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism, and public worship other than Islam is strictly forbidden. The religious police regularly carry out raids and destroy any religious item such as Bibles, rosaries or crosses. Last March, Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the Saudi Arabian kingdom, declared that it is "necessary to destroy all [Christian] churches in the Arabian Peninsula."
Although the Saudi government officially tolerates other religious practices in private homes, the religious police have a different set of rules and try to put an end to those practices.
This raid was just one of many in a series of crackdowns on Christians by Saudi Arabia country. During Advent (a season observed in many Western Christian churches) in 2011, Saudi authorities stormed an evening prayer meeting at the private home of one of the Ethiopian workers in the Al-Safa district in the city of Jeddah. Those who were in attendance at the service were threatened with death and beaten before being arrested. The Saudi mutawa imprisoned 42 worshippers for more than seven months in barbaric prison conditions, where the men faced severe beatings and the women were subjected to sexually intrusive torture methods.
At the time, a church official in Jeddah said, "Saudi Arabian officials have arrested Christians in the past, but it is unprecedented for them to arrest such a large group at one time."
After the United States government, Christian organizations and human rights groups complained, the Saudis deported the 42 Christian Ethiopian workers in August 2012. In light of that incident, a Republican member of the US Congress, Jeff Fortenberry, who sits on the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East said, "Nations that wish to be a part of the responsible nations of the world must see the protection of religious freedom and the principles of reason as an essential part of the duty of the state."
During a visit to Saudi Arabia early this month by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Saudi officials reiterated to them their government's long-standing policy that members of the religious police should not interfere in private worship. Dwight Bashir, deputy director of USCIRF, said that although the Saudis claim to allow the private practice of other faiths, the mutawa still mount their crackdowns.
"The past year has seen an uptick of reports that private religious gatherings have been raided resulting in arrests, harassment and deportations of foreign expatriate workers" said Bashir.
[ad] In July 2006, the Saudi government promised that it would stop interfering with private worship by non-Muslims. In a written document called a "Confirmation of Policies" which was presented to the United States government, the Saudis said that they would "guarantee and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice." The Saudis also said they would "ensure that members of the religious police do not detain or conduct investigations of suspects, implement punishment or violate the sanctity of private homes."
Christoph Wilcke of Human Rights Watch said, "Saudi authorities have broken their promises with respect to other faiths. Men and women of other faiths have nowhere to worship in Saudi Arabia."