SAUDI ARABIA: 35 Ethiopian Christians released and deported

On 1 August 2012 Saudi Arabia deported the last of the 35 Ethiopian Christians who had been detained for holding an all-night prayer vigil in December 2011.

During their imprisonment, Saudi security officials assaulted and harassed the Christians and pressurised them to become Muslims. “We have arrived home safe. We believe that we are released as the result of the pressure exerted by International Christian Concern and others,” said one of the prisoners, adding, “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.”

The 29 men and six women were arrested on 15 December 2011 while holding a prayer service at a private home. The Saudi officials originally accused the Christians of “mixing with opposite gender” but, when pressured by U.S. officials, they started giving other reasons for the detention, including being in the country illegally and engaging in drug and human trafficking.

International Christian Concern (ICC) organised three protests at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington D.C. and gathered petitions for the release of the prisoners. ICC also brought their plight to the attention of the U.S. Congress, the State Department and the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom. Subsequently, staff members from several Congressional offices began calling the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. and holding meetings with Saudi officials, putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to release the prisoners.

ICC’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.” (International Christian Concern)