Saudi Prince Orders Jailed Christians Released

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Two Egyptian Copts Freed After 10 Days

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, November 4 (Compass) — Two Egyptian Christians jailed in the Saudi capital of Riyadh 10 days ago for leading a house church were ordered released this morning by Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.

Sabry Awad Gayed, a pediatrician working in a clinic in El Bat’ha for the past four years, and Eskander Guirguis Eskandar, employed as a carpenter, were arrested on October 25 on accusations of establishing a non-Muslim place of worship.

On the day of their arrest, Saudi police reportedly questioned why the two of them and Eskandar’s brother had three Bibles in their possession. “Each one of us has our own Bible,” the men explained.

After being registered at a local police station, the two men were put in jail. When brought before the prosecutor, they were informed they were accused of evangelism and “establishing a temple [non-Muslim place of worship].” However, the authorities produced no proof of either charge.

The two Coptic Christians have met privately for worship in homes with other expatriate Christians since they took jobs in Saudi Arabia.

Two years ago, their house church was investigated by a Muslim organization which came to inquire why they were staying at home and not attending Friday prayers. When the vigilante group found that the 150 people meeting together were all Christians, they left them alone.

After receiving a written complaint that two Egyptians had been jailed “for apparently no reason,” Prince Sultan reportedly asked to see their file yesterday. The prince serves as Saudi Arabia’s Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

Just a week before Gayed’s and Eskandar’s detention, Prince Sultan was questioned by journalists, asking if the Saudi government planned to allow Americans to build churches in the Kingdom.

The prince was quoted in Riyadh’s official newspaper as replying, “There will be no church built in the land of Saudi Arabia. But everybody has the freedom to worship in his own home.”

According to Gayed’s wife, Dr. Salwa Khalil, her husband and Eskandar were treated “in a respectful way” by the Saudi police during their imprisonment.

“I was able to call Sabry almost daily through the cell phone of some friend visiting him,” she said, “and the police allowed him to answer.” She is currently in Cairo with their two small daughters.

It is unclear whether Saudi authorities plan to allow the two Coptic Christians to continue in their job contracts, or if they will deport the men back to Egypt.