Ethiopian Christians praying, but in Saudi they were jailed and deported.
CAIRO: At least 35 Christians from Ethiopia were deported by Saudi Arabia last week after having been detained for over 7 months for reportedly praying in the privacy of their own homes.
International Christian Concern (ICC) wrote in a statement published on their 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,” it added.
“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 reportedly told the ICC.
In February, Ethiopians living in the United States, protested in front of the Saudi Embassy, demanding their rights be upheld and that they be granted full freedom of religion.
“We urge all those concerned in the Washington, D.C. area to participate in this protest. Saudi Arabian officials have refused to release the Christians despite quiet diplomatic pressure,” Jonathan Racho, Regional Manager for Africa at the ICC, an advocacy group and one of the protest’s organizers, said in a statement at the time.
“We must raise our voices and demand the Saudis release the prisoners who were imprisoned simply for praying together.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that 29 of those arrested are women and were subjected to “arbitrary body cavity searches” while in custody.
The Christians had gathered together to pray on December 15 at a private home of one of the Ethiopians, but police responded by raiding the house and arresting the group of Ethiopians, three of those jailed told HRW.
“While King Abdullah sets up an international interfaith dialogue center, his police are trampling on the rights of believers of others faiths,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government needs to change its own intolerant ways before it can promote religious dialogue abroad.”
In October last year, Saudi Arabia, together with Austria and Spain, founded the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, located in Vienna, and funded by Saudi Arabia.
The Ethiopian men spent two days at al-Nuzha police station in Jeddah, after which the police transferred them to Buraiman prison. The women had already been transferred to Buraiman prison. Two of the women said that officials there forced the women to strip, and then an officer inserted her finger into each of the women’s genitals, under the pretext of searching for illegal substances hidden inside their bodies. She wore a plastic glove that she did not change, the women told the New York-based human rights organization.
Officers also kicked and beat the men in Buraiman prison, and insulted them as “unbelievers,” the jailed Ethiopian man said.
Both men and women complained of inadequate medical care and unsanitary conditions at Buraiman prison. There were too few toilets, they said. In the men’s wing, 6 of 12 toilets were reserved for Saudi inmates, while hundreds of foreign inmates were forced to share the remaining 6 toilets. One female detainee said she suffers from diabetes and was given an injection in the prison clinic that caused swelling, and has received no further medical attention.
According to the ICC, which said it has spoken directly with the prisoners, the Christian men and women corroborate the claims that they were violently arrested and currently experience attempts at conversion to Islam while in prison.
The prisoners reported earlier this year that a Muslim preacher was sent by officials to speak to them about converting to Islam, the ICC said, but this could not be independently verified by Bikyamasr.com sources.
The preacher reportedly also “vilified Christianity and denigrated the Bible,” the ICC reported.
“These are law-abiding Ethiopian citizens. They were simply arrested for practicing their faith at a private home,” Kebadu Belachew, an Ethiopian-American human rights activist and one of the organizers of the rally, told ICC.