Saudi Arabia Deports Ethiopian Christian

Monday, June 2, 2003

Eritrean Prisoner Starts Tenth Week in Jail
by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, June 2 (Compass) -- Two and one-half weeks after an Ethiopian Christian was deported from Saudi Arabia for alleged “Christian activities,” a fellow Christian prisoner of Eritrean citizenship remains jailed in Jeddah.

Girmaye Ambaye, who was arrested on March 25 in the Saudi kingdom’s largest port city, reportedly cannot be processed for deportation to Eritrea until local authorities complete the official transfer of a car purchased in his name.

“Maybe they will finish it this week, so that he could leave for Eritrea on the June 7 flight,” one of Ambaye’s close friends told Compass from Jeddah today.

According to a fellow Christian who visited Ambaye on May 28, the jailed Eritrean Christian continues to experience some health problems while incarcerated in a crowded waiting cell at the Bremen deportation center at Terhil. “He is still a little bit sick,” the source reported.

Both Ambaye and Endeshawe Yizengaw had been active in the ministry of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Christian congregation in Jeddah, where they lived for the past 12 and 10 years, respectively. After the men had their residence permits secretly revoked in March and April, they were tracked down and arrested by Saudi police.

Yizengaw, who is 32 and unmarried, was deported to Addis Ababa on May 16, only 20 days after his arrest on April 27.

On the day of his arrest, Yizengaw said the security police literally tore his house apart, searching through all six rooms. “Finally they brutally beat me on the face,” he said, leaving his left ear badly injured.

Their stated objective, he said, was to force him to name every Arab Muslim to whom he had ever “preached Christ.”

Yizengaw, who speaks Arabic as well as his native Amharic and Tigrinya languages, told Compass that his interrogators accused him of trying to evangelize Saudi Muslims and of receiving American and British funding in payment for it.

Yizengaw said he does not deny talking about Christ on a regular basis with Muslims, and that he was well aware that by doing so he was putting his life at risk. “But I did not get a penny from anybody, no organization or even a church. God was on my side, and He blessed me.”

In an effort to conceal their real reason for arresting and deporting him, he said, the Saudi authorities told the Ethiopian Consulate that Yizengaw had been involved in making alcohol and running a prostitution ring.

Both his hands and legs were kept cuffed while he was in jail, he said, and he was repeatedly pressed to identify all his Muslim friends.

“They wanted to do some bad things to us, to punish us,” Yizengaw told Compass from Addis Ababa last week, “but the mighty Lord was with us, and they couldn’t do that.”

Despite the fact that all of their jailers and most of their 300 or more cellmates at any given time were Muslims, Yizengaw said, “Girmaye and I just told every one of them that Jesus is Lord.” In response, he recalled, “One police officer was saying to cut our heads off.”

The Ethiopian said he had been taken in for questioning about a year ago, when seven armed police officers raided the Jeddah fellowship where he was preaching. “Finally they just gave me my residence permit and let me out from the jail,” he said. But he told them “clearly” then that within his own home he was not going to stop preaching and worshipping God.

“Since that day on, they have focused on me,” he said. He was summoned two more times for interrogation before his final arrest in late April.

Saudi security police have kept Yizengaw’s congregation under regular, open surveillance for the past three months. According to the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern, at least eight other members of the group have been called in recently for questioning and warned to stop attending worship services. Last week, some of the church elders again spotted security police who were following them, a local source confirmed to Compass.

“But the church of our great Jesus is continuing in Jeddah,” Yizengaw declared. “There are many, many believers there.”