Saudis urged not to harass S Asian sect

Dubai, UAE - New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused Saudi Arabia of carrying out a wave of arrests and deportations against mainly south Asian followers of the Ahmadi faith that amounts to a "grave violation" of religious freedom.

"The Saudi government’s arrest and detention of members of the Ahmadi community solely on the basis of their religion is a grave violation of this right," the watchdog said.

It said the Saudi authorities had arrested 56 non-Saudi followers of the faith, "including infants and young children" and deported at least eight to India or Pakistan.

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims and follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th-century Indian Muslim scholar.

In Saudi Arabia, the faith is practised by a small minority of foreign workers, primarily from India and Pakistan.

But many Muslims view the Ahmadis as heretics because of the elevated status they afford to the faith’s founder.

They also face persecution in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

"We write to urge you to put an immediate end to Saudi Arabia’s nationwide campaign to round up followers of the Ahmadi faith who have committed no crime," HRW said in a letter sent to King Abdullah on Wednesday.

"These arrests are a clear indication of the Saudi government’s intolerance of freedom of worship," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director, calling on the king "to act swiftly to show the world that persecution of religious minorities is not a Saudi government policy."