Saudi Arabia has deported 35 Ethiopian Christians it had held in detention since December when they were arrested for holding a prayer meeting in a private home. International Christian Concern (ICC), an organization that monitors the persecution of Christians around the world, reported that the last of the Ethiopians, some of whom had lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for over 15 years, were deported on August 1.
“We have arrived home safe,” one of the released Christians told ICC. “We believe that we are released as the result of the pressure exerted by ICC and others. 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.”
According to the ICC, on December 15 Saudi police raided the home where the 29 women and six men were holding an all-night prayer vigil, harassing the participants and originally charging them with breaking a Saudi law barring men and women from meeting together in the same room. A Saudi church leader, however, told ICC that the charge was merely an excuse to intimidate and detain the Christians for practicing their faith. “The Saudi officials are accusing the Christians of committing the crime of mixing of sexes,” the church leader said at the time of the arrests, “because if they charge them with meeting for practicing Christianity, they will come under pressure from the international human rights organizations as well as Western countries. In fact, when an employer of one of the detainees asked the reason for their employee’s arrest, the Saudi official told him that it was for practicing Christianity.”
According to ICC, during the nearly eight months the Ethiopian Christians were held, their Saudi captors assaulted and harassed them in an attempt to coerce them into converting to Islam. The detainees told ICC that the intimidation included strip-searching the women and physically abusing the men. One of the female Christians said that in February a Muslim preacher came to their cells in an effort to persuade them to leave the Christian faith. “The Muslim preacher vilified Christianity, denigrated the Bible and told us that Islam is the only true religion,” the woman told ICC in a phone interview. “The preacher told us to convert to Islam.” She added that “when the preacher asked us, we didn't deny ... our Christian faith.”
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Photo: Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C.