Thursday, June 2, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (BosNewsLife)-- Saudi Arabia's security forces have arrested at least almost 100 foreign Christians, including Indians, in an apparent violent crackdown against non Muslims, BosNewsLife learned Wednesday, June 1.
"This has been going on since yesterday [Tuesday May 31]", one senior Christian official with close knowledge about the situation told BosNewsLife on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. "In phone calls to me, we know of at least 80 to 90 arrests being made by the regular police and the religious police...The arrests are continuing [and] so far, [they] are taking place only in the capital, Riyadh, but we don't know the final extent of this," the source added.
Saudi officials were not immediately available for comment. "Apparently, the arrests are being made for religious reasons, objecting to their prayer, possession of Bibles and proselytizing," the source said. "[However] police have not given any specific [reasons and] simply show up at any time, day or night, with as many as 26 officers and personnel bursting into apartments to confiscate or destroy computers, cell phones, files, books [and] Bibles. [They also] beat up people in front of spouses and children [before they] haul them away," he added.
News of the latest arrests came shortly after Vijay Kumar, a 45-year-old Indian national from the state of Tamil Nadu, and seven other Protestant leaders were reportedly arrested by Saudi Arabia’s religious police. AsiaNews, a Catholic oriented news website, quoted sources in the country as saying that Kumar was taken into custody May 28. His arrest followed the detention of another Indian, Samkutty Varghese, an Evangelical Christian who had entered the country on January 26 on a tourist visa, AsiaNews said.
Varghese was allegedly detained as he waited for his visa to be extended, on March 9, when police forces discovered his Hindi Bible and some phone numbers, which were apparently used to carry out other arrests. On May 28, the religious police reportedly raided a private prayer gathering of Protestant groups in the Batha area of the Saudi capital.
Later that day police arrived at Kumar’s home where they interrogated him and his wife Christy Vijay Kumar till 3 am local time and then took away all religious material found in the residence as well as the family computers and Kumar himself, added AsiaNews citing sources in the region. Kumar's wife works as a catechist and normally teaches 40 Christian children from India and Muscat in her home. He has been in Saudi Arabia since 1994 working for Al Salam Aircraft, but his home has reportedly been a gathering place for Christians since 2002.
"These arrests and beatings seem to be part of a well-orchestrated plan to persecute Christians in Saudi Arabia, whether Indian or other expatriates. The Indian expatriates do not have any redress through the Indian embassy in Riyadh, which is entirely manned by Muslims," said the BosNewsLife source, who appealed for prayers and international help from the United States and other governments. Earlier in April, Saudi police forces detained 40 Pakistani Christians for worshipping at home, several reports said.
The Saudi Institute, an independent Washington based think tank with close contacts to dissidents in Saudi Arabia, has accused the royal family and other authorities of selective anger over recent reports that a copy of the Koran had been desecrated by American military personnel at the detention facility of Guantanomo Bay, Cuba.
"The Saudi Embassy in Washington articulated "great concern" and urged Washington to conduct a quick investigation. The Saudi government has also recommended to the American government to install "deterring measures" so that an incident such as this would not be repeated. [But[ the Saudi government would not comment on [its] policy of desecrating Bibles that had been seized from foreign nationals," said Saudi Institute Staff Writer Zachary Liben.
"The Saudi government burns and desecrates hundreds of Bibles its security forces confiscate after raids on Christian expatriates worshiping privately or at border crossings," Liben added in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife News Center. "Hundreds of Christian worshipers are arrested every year by Saudi police in raids on their private gatherings. Bibles, crosses and printed materials are confiscated and later burnt or dumped into trash. Although considered as holy in Islam and mentioned in the Koran dozens of times, the Bible is banned in Saudi Arabia, and is confiscated and destroyed by government officials." Liben said.
Western diplomats have complained that although Saudi Arabia’s economy heavily depends on foreigners, expatriates are not allowed to profess their faith as observing any religion other than Islam is illegal in the Kingdom. There are around six million foreigners in the conservative kingdom, which has a population of 23 million, including many Christians from Europe, North America, Asia and other Arab states. In a rare official rebuke of a close ally last year, Washington recently accused Saudi Arabia of severe violations of religious freedom. (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Saudi Arabia and the United States)