a "tortured" Christian guest worker from India who was reportedly produced before an Islamic court this week on charges of "spreading Christianity."
Brian O’Connor "was beaten and tortured and threatened with death unless he abjured his Christian faith," said AsiaNews, quoting several human rights groups, including Middle East Concern.
"Along with other associations, AsiaNews has embarked on an international campaign for Mr. O’Connor’s release," the news organization said.
Another Christian news agency, Compass Direct, said it had learned that O’Connor’s hearing in front of an Islamic court in Riyadh Wednesday, September 15, lasted 90 minutes.
His court hearing came as United States Secretary of State Colin Powell named Saudi Arabia as one of eight "countries of particular concern" for its "gross infringements of religious freedom."
CHARGES AGAINST HIM
"O’Connor was informed for the first time of the legal charges against him, which include possession of alcohol, possession of pornographic movies and preaching Christianity.
It was not clear whether any evidence was produced to support the possession charges," said Compass, which has close contacts with persecuted Christians.
He has reportedly acknowledged that he led Bible studies for expatriate Christians in his home, which is illegal under Saudi Arabia’s controversial policies.
O’Connor, who has been jailed since March, is among the estimated 6 million foreign workers most of whom are not Muslim. Middle East Concern said that "O’Connor led study sessions for Catholic immigrants from different countries." Following his arrest he "was beaten, tortured and received death threats. In April the Indian Embassy called on the Saudi government to state the motives for O’Connor’s arrest but has not yet received any answer", Middle East Concern said in a release obtained by AsiaNews.
In its unusual harsh report on Saudi Arabia, which raises the possibility of US sanctions, the State Department referred to these kind of situations, saying that "freedom of religion does not exist" in the Islamic kingdom.
"It is not recognized or protected under the country’s laws, and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam," the report adds. "Citizens are denied the freedom to choose or change their religion, and noncitizens practice their beliefs under severe restrictions. Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslims. The Government limits the practice of all but the officially sanctioned version of Islam and prohibits the public practice of other religions," the State Department said.
It reflects comments from Pope John Paul II, who earlier deplored the reported lack of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. The administration of United States President George W. Bush had come under increased pressure to condemn Saudi Arabia’s alleged links to extreme Muslim groups and its harsh policies, following the September 11 terror attacks on American soil.
Washington has an uneasy friendship with Saudi Arabia, where thousands of American troops are stationed and which has been an important oil trade partner. Saudi Arabia officials however say the government is on a path of reforms and supports the US-led war on terror.