Saudis imprison Christian convert

Saudi religious police arrested a 30-year-old citizen who converted from Islam to Christianity.

Emad Alaabadi, who has a wife and four children, is in prison in Jeddah after his Nov. 29 arrest in the town of Hufus, reports International Christian Concern, a Washington, D.C.-based human-rights group.

Alaabadi was driving his children home from school Nov. 29 when he was intercepted by police. The police escorted him home to drop off the children then took him to prison in Hufus before being transferred to Jeddah.

The Saudi man made contact Dec. 4 with his mother in Australia, who said he sounded very weak.

ICC said if Alaabadi's case is like others, he probably has been tortured as the religious police attemp to reconvert him to Islam.

Saudis are forbidden by law from converting to another religion.

The kingdom bars all public expression of religion, except for its strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. No church buildings are allowed, and religious police have cracked down at times on worship in private homes.

The Washington group has a report that three or four others also were arrested in connection with Alaabadi's case.

For the first time, Sept. 15, the U.S. State Department named Saudi Arabia a "country of particular concern," subjecting it to possible sanctions for egregious and ongoing violations of religious freedom.

The State Department's annual report says that in Saudi Arabia "religious freedom does not exist" and non-Muslim "worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture for engaging in religious activity that attracts official attention."

ICC is urging people to contact the Saudi embassy "to politely voice their concerns and ask for the release of Emad Alaabadi."

Saudi Arabia maintains complete lack of religious freedom, ICC points out, while pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the building of mosques in the U.S.

In June, religious police imprisoned a Catholic foreign worker for "preaching Christianity" and allegedly selling drugs, though the famly insists the charges are trumped up and his only "crime" was to be seen praying.

ICC said that in prison, O'Connor was "whipped on his back and soles of his feet by electrical wires," causing intense pain.

O'Connor said at one point he was gasping for breath and moaning from the blows when a religious police officer placed a call to one of O'Conner's Saudi bosses. Laughing loudly, the captor held the phone to O'Connor's mouth so the man on the line could hear the Christian's groans.

In March, the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House in Washington said seven Saudi Muslims who advocated human rights and religious tolerance were arrested in March and imprisoned in Riyadh.