By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (BosNewsLife)– Saudi security forces have detained 42 Ethiopian Christians at a prayer gathering in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, the latest in a series of raids on worship meetings, a rights official said Saturday, December 17.
“Though not permitting a single church building where Christians can worship in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government goes even further” by “arresting Christians who attend services in the privacy of their own homes,” said Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East of advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC).
He said Thursday’s raid was part of an attempt by the government “to assault the religious freedoms of its citizens and foreign workers by hunting for and arresting Christians…”.
ICC investigators said they have learned from local sources that police and security officers raided an evening prayer meeting at the home of an Ethiopian Christian in the Al-Safa district of Jeddah. Those attending the service were reportedly beaten and threatened before being arrested.
“Security officials broke [into] the house and captured… beat and threatened them for death… They divided the men and the women and they are torturing them [in prison],” an Ethiopian and Eritrean Christian immigrant community living in Europe wrote in what ICC called “a desperate appeal for help” ambassadors of European missions in the capital Riyadh.
“Saudi Arabian officials have arrested Christians in the past but it is unprecedented for them to arrest 42 Christians at one time,” a church leader in Jeddah, who asked not to be named for security reasons, reportedly told ICC. “We are particularly concerned about the children of the detained Christians.”
Two Ethiopian congregations in Saudi Arabia have reportedly temporarily postponed services “until the situation calms. ”
The whereabouts of the Ethiopian Christians were not immediately clear Saturday, December 17.
Christians in Saudi Arabia, most of who enter the country as foreign workers, are not allowed to practice their faith openly.
Saudi police are known to have raided private worship gatherings in homes, arrest and deport congregants, and confiscate Christian materials, including Bibles.
Earlier this year, BosNewsLife, reported on two Indian Christians, Vasantha Sekhar Vara, 28, and Nese Yohan, 31, who were detained while attending a Bible study group meeting of the Riyadh-based ‘Rejoice in the Church of the Lord’ congregation.
Both devoted believers soon received 45-days of “pre-trial detention” on charges of attempted Christian conversion, also known as “proselytizing”, the church told BosNewsLife.
They were later moved from the police station to a notorious central jail in Riyadh, the capital, where they were held for months without trial before being released and deported back to India in July, said a church elder, whose name BosNewsLife did not identify, citing security concerns.
Clay told BosNewsLife that the ongoing raids and latest detention of Ethiopian Christians shows that Saudi Arabia is not meeting its international obligations. “As a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture, we urge Saudi Arabia to end the abuse that the Ethiopian Christians have reportedly suffered in prison
and to ensure their immediate release.”
The Middle East nation of over 26 million people is officially 100 percent Muslim, but as in other Arabic countries, there have been reports of a growing interest in Christianity in Saudi Arabia, where many foreigners are Christians.
Saudi authorities have denied human rights abuses and recently urged political activists not to repeat anti-government popular revolts that swept other Arabic nations.