Christians Jailed In Saudi Arabia Ask for US Help

Jerusalem ( - The families of Christians jailed in Saudi Arabia because of their faith are turning to the U.S. government for help, a human rights organization said.

Officials in the strictly Islamic nation continued their crackdown on Christian religious freedoms this week, arresting another four foreign nationals for their religious practices.

Fourteen Christians legally working in the country have been arrested since mid-July in raids on their homes. They remain in Saudi custody; but the exact whereabouts of most are unknown. A fifteenth was deported after being tortured to the brink of death.

"It has become clearly evident that the Saudis are deliberately carrying out a campaign of arrests of the Christian leadership, which is being literally swept away," said Richard Braidich of the United Churches of Saudi Arabia in a statement released from the Washington-based International Christian Concern.

None of those arrested are Americans, but the countries from which they come hold little sway over the oil-rich desert kingdom. The Christians believe that the U.S. can have a greater influence over its Gulf ally.

One American Christian, who lived in Saudi Arabia for two years and is representing UCOSA in Washington, said that there is an ongoing concern about the home raids and detainments.

"The U.S. government is the only one that has any clout," said the Christian who asked not to be named. "The believers [Christians] know that."

The Christians are pleading for the U.S. to speak to the Saudis on their behalf to release the people immediately, not deport them and to restore them to their jobs, he said in a telephone interview.

In Saudi Arabia, there is a legalized system by which people are paid according to their nationalities. They are treated the same way in cases like these, said the Christian.

The Indians and Filipinos are treated poorly, but the Africans have it even worse. Of those who have been arrested the whereabouts and condition of the Indian and Filipino only are known.

There is no legal or formal church in Saudi Arabia, where the only religion is Islam. But UCOSA was formed by foreign Christians living in the country as an unofficial association of Christians who practice their faith in small gatherings in their homes.

According to Rev. Steve Snyder, president of ICC, UCOSA is asking for a platform through which the foreign Christian community will be able to address its concerns with the Saudi government.

There is no agency or government liaison to which the Christians can turn to even begin a dialogue, Snyder said. Until now, they have worked through diplomatic channels only.

Snyder and two other Christians representing UCOSA were due to meet with State Department officials and U.S. lawmakers late Thursday to present the plight of these Christians and ask for help.

A State Department spokesman said that the U.S. government was "concerned" about the situation.

"It is an issue that we take seriously and we continue to monitor the situation," he said by telephone. He also referred to the State Department report on Saudi Arabia.

"Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy without constitutional protection for freedom of religion, and such protection does not exist in practice," last year's report on international religious freedom said.

But Snyder and others have charged that the U.S. has been remiss in countering the flagrant human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

The State Department has ignored the federal U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's recommendation for the last two years that Saudi Arabia be named a "country of particular concern" due to its "systematic, ongoing and egregious" violation of religious freedoms.

Human rights organizations have indicated that they believe the Christians have been arrested in order to extract information from them about local Saudis, who may have secretly converted to Christianity, a crime punishable by death.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to inquiries about the case of the Christians.

At least seven of those who have been arrested have families who are dependent on them. Two have newborn babies at home. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, which has left the wives of those arrested at a loss to shop and care for their families.

Other Christians are concerned that if they are observed helping those families, they, too, and their families will also be in danger from the authorities.

One 12-year-old, whose father was taken, appealed for help from the international community by email, released through the ICC.

"[I am] begging for your help and support for my father, Dennis Moreno-Lacalle, who had been interrogated last August the three government policemen," wrote Jedidiah John.

"Our house was ransacked and one Bible and some musical instruments [were] confiscated...We went already to the prison, but these people in the prison keep...hiding him. Please, have mercy for us here...Please, please help," he wrote.