Saudi Arabia Mocks Religious Freedom

Almost three months since their arrest, the fate of three Filipino Christians remains unknown. On December 8, 2000 at 2:00 PM, 12 Filipino Christians were meeting for lunch in a house in the Malaz area of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Escorted by a Muslim leader, Muttawa (enforcers of Islamic law) and uniformed Saudi policemen raided the Filipino residence, demanding to see everyone's documents.

Coercion was applied by the Muslim leader, supported by the Muttawa. Six of the Christians were then taken into custody by the Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI) in Riyadh near Channel 2 TV, Takassusi district. One married couple was released the same day, followed by one other un-named individual. Today, seven weeks later, three of the Christians remain in custody and no one has been allowed to see, according to the Philippine embassy. The embassy has received reports from the MOI that the prisoners "are being treated well."

It has also been reported that the Muttawa forced these three men to sign documents written in Arabic (of which they don't speak or read) consenting to the fact that they committed some crimes. It is known that the Saudi's have done this on a multitude of occasions over the past 20 years - having people falsely confess that they were drug traffickers, etc. It is feared that these men could now be facing trial based on false and yet unknown charges. It is known that the couple that was released was coerced to sign Arabic documents stating they would never again meet with other Christians in this manner.

The following are the names of the individuals that are being held by the Saudi authorities since December 8th, 2000 (including employer):

(1) Jose Garcia, Royal Saudi Airforce-Riyadh, SA

(2) Ernesto Miranda, JS Jewellery-Riyadh, SA

(3) Marlon Blando, Diplomatic Quarter-Maintenance Dept, Riyadh, SA

Eight months prior to this arrest, an article published on April 7, 2000 in the Saudi Arab News, Prince Doctor Turki ibn Mohammed Saud Al-Kabeer, assistant under-secretary for political affairs in the Foreign Ministry and head of the general administration for international bodies made the following statements regarding religious freedom in Saudi Arabia:

1. "Non-Muslims are also granted full freedom to practice their religion in private and no non-Muslim has ever been harassed for his belief while anyone who harasses them is punished."

2. "Both citizens and expatriates are granted equal rights of freedom of expression and assembling as long as they do not disrupt public order and propriety."

3. "Non-Muslim expatriates in the Kingdom enjoy[ing] equal rights, with the Muslim without any discrimination."

Given the statements above made to the UN Human Rights commission's 56th sitting, it is evident that the Saudi's continue to mock the UN and the world by their blatant disregard - even for their own statements. They continue to abuse expatriates and their religious freedoms on their own soil while making big claims of openness to the world. In a world where religious rights are taken for granted, it appears that the Saudi continue in their intolerance of even small home-group meetings of Christians, while displaying an insidious air of freedom.

In regards to the supposed religious freedoms in Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki has stated that, "numerous channels for freedom of expression in accordance with the open door policy of the Kingdom which means that, all state officials have an obligation to receive citizens and others and listen to their views and complaints."

ICC, as well as it's contacts in Saudi Arabia, have yet to even obtain the fax number for Prince Turki, and his address and contact information eludes all known Christians in Saudi Arabia. Even the US Embassy has failed to gain access to this prominent Prince.

ICC and Christians in Saudi Arabia (as well as around the world) are asking the Saudi's for the following:

1. That these 3 Filipino Christians be immediately released, without deportation, to be put back into the service of their respective employers. [This is the 2nd or 3rd such incident in the last year of unjustified Christian imprisonment in Saudi Arabia leading to the individual's loss of employment, and subsequent deportation.]

2. Immediate access to Prince Turki, as well as to the supposed human rights channels that have been put into place.

3. That Saudi Arabia put forth a formal statement of their future human rights intentions, including how the world is to gain access to them in the future, as well as the channels of accountability.

Because the three men in prison do not have families in Saudi Arabia, the MOI have completely denied access to them by friends. Of course their friends are reluctant to even ask for visitation for fear of they too will be subject to interrogation and deportation.

Please pray for these men as they remain incarcerated, unable to have contact with their families in the Philippines. It is known that in 1998, as Christians were held in prison, the Saudi resorted to extortion and torture to gain information on the "underground" churches. Pray that the Saudi's would learn to adhere to their own word in providing protection for those Christians who would assemble peacefully for private worship. Pray for their families in the Philippines who know little of their detainment or well-being.

Sent by International Christian Concern.