Religious police destroy temple

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Saudi religious police have destroyed a clandestine makeshift Hindu temple in an old district of Riyadh and deported three worshippers found there, a newspaper reported yesterday.

Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or religious police, on Thursday stumbled across a room converted into a temple while raiding a number of apartments suspected of being used to manufacture alcohol and distribute pornographic videos, pan-Arab Al-Hayat said.

"They were surprised to find that one room had been converted into a Hindu temple," the newspaper said.

A caretaker who was found in the worshiping area ignored the religious police orders to stop performing his religious rituals, the paper added.

He was deported along with two other men who arrived on the scene to worship.

All forms of non-Muslim worship are banned in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's holiest shrines.

Saudi police, for the past couple of weeks, have been conducting a security operation in an old part of Riyadh inhabited by mainly Asian labor on suspicion that the area has turned into a haven for illicit trade of pornographic material and forgery of documents.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory panel, last month urged the Bush administration to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia, as well as Vietnam and Eritrea, for violating religious rights.

Last year, the State Department for the first time named ally Saudi Arabia, as well as Eritrea and Vietnam, "countries of particular concern" in its annual report on religious freedom. The list previously included China, Iran, Burma, North Korea and Sudan.

The State Department sent the report to Congress on Sept. 15. Under the International Religious Freedom Act, Congress could impose sanctions on the countries on the list if no remedial action is taken by them within six months. On March 15, the State Department asked Congress to extend the deadline for action on Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Eritrea, saying the administration was close to reaching agreements that would improve the state of religious freedom in the three countries.