Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians are facing deportation from Saudi Arabia for ‘illicit mingling’, after they were arrested in a police raid on a private prayer meeting in one of their homes.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the 29 women and six men had gathered to pray at a house in Jeddah on 15 December, when police burst in and detained them.
The women were taken to Buraiman prison, where they were strip-searched and sexually abused. The men were held at a police station in Jeddah for two days before also being transferred to Buraiman prison. Officers allegedly kicked and beat the men and called them ‘unbelievers’.
Three members of the group reported their ordeal to Human Rights Watch over the telephone from prison. In reports, sourced by Barnabas Fund from partners on the ground, some of the Christians were taken to court where they were made to put their fingerprints to a document without being allowed to read it.
They were told that they were being charged with ‘illicit mingling’ of unmarried persons of the opposite sex, despite Saudi Arabia not having any law that defines this offence. The entire group now faces deportation.
More than a million expatriate Christians are thought to be living in Saudi Arabia. There are very few indigenous Christians. All the country’s citizens must be Muslim and conversion to Christianity is punishable by death.
A Human Rights Watch statement said, ‘The Saudi Arabian authorities are trampling on the rights of believers of other faiths’.
Barnabas Fund has launched a campaign, Proclaim Freedom, for 2012 calling on Western governments to put pressure on states such as Saudi Arabia that persecute or condone the persecution of Christians within their borders.