Officials in Saudi Arabia are notorious for their intolerance of outsiders observing the Christian faith within Saudi borders, and on February 8 the country's religious police re-enforced that reputation when they arrested 53 Ethiopian Christians involved in a private prayer service in the Saudi city of Dammam, shutting down the service and hauling the believers off to jail.
According to the World Evangelism Alliance, a total of 46 women and six men were arrested in the raid, and three of the Christians, identified as leaders of the private house church, were charged with trying to convert Muslims to the Christian faith.
In December 2011, the Saudi religious police, known as the mutaween, arrested 35 Ethiopian Christians, 29 of them women, on charges of “illicit mingling” after the authorities raided a private prayer meeting in Jeddah. According to Human Rights Watch, some of the Christians were tortured, and the women were subjected to arbitrary body cavity searches.
In September 2012, a Saudi Arabian girl who converted to Christianity fled to Dammam, a Saudi center for petroleum and natural gas production and a major seaport. The girl was eventually granted asylum in Sweden last month, according to Dammam's Al-Yaum newspaper.
In its 2012 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted that Saudi Arabia continues to oppress non-Muslim religious observers, with Christians taking a big share of the abuse. “The Saudi government persists in banning all forms of public religious expression other than that of the government's own interpretation of one school of Sunni Islam,” said the report. It also “prohibits churches, synagogues, temples, and other non-Muslim places of worship; uses in its schools and posts online state textbooks that continue to espouse intolerance and incite violence; and periodically interferes with private religious practice.”
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