Two Foreign Christians Remain Held by Saudi Authorities

Sunday, August 11, 2002

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) -- Terry Madison, U.S. president and CEO of Open Doors with Brother Andrew has said that Saudi Arabia's treatment of two expatriate Christians is further proof of why this desert Kingdom is among the world's worst persecutor of Christians.

Speaking from his office in Santa Ana, CA, Madison said, "Detaining Christians for five months without charges and prohibiting consular access for these foreign workers suggests why Saudi Arabia ranks among the worst offenders of human rights in the annual U.S. State Department report on human right abuses. Saudi Arabia has a solid lock on the number one position of countries most repressive of Christians in the Open Doors bi-annual World Watch list," Madison continued.


"The brutal public lashing of prisoners because of their Christian faith raises an enormous question mark about Islam being a religion of peace, as so many suggest," said Madison. "Peacemakers don't subject innocent people to sub-human prison conditions and beatings," he stated.

According to Compass Direct News Service, two expatriate Christians -- Filipino Dennis Moreno and Ethiopian Worku Aweke (Ismail Abubakr) -- jailed since last August by Saudi Arabia's religious police, still remain in custody, their deportation orders stalled by the inaction of either their employer or their respective consulate.

Both remain incarcerated at Jeddah's Bremen deportation center. A fellow Christian released last month described the prison as "the very worst prison among all the prisons we had seen."

Since February 14, Moreno had been the last foreign Christian detained at Bremen awaiting formal deportation by Saudi authorities. But on March 7, he was joined by Aweke, an Ethiopian that had been in a jail near Mecca for the past six weeks.


Moreno and Aweke were among 14 foreign Christians arrested and jailed without charges in Jeddah last summer. All were active members of expatriate house churches meeting privately for worship. After holding them five months without consular access, Saudi Arabia began to deport them during January and February.

A vice consul of the Ethiopian Consulate confirmed that Aweke's deportation details had been completed with his employer in Mecca, clearing the way for his transfer back to Jeddah last Thursday.

"Our liaison officer met with him and is processing his travel documents," the official said. "When this is finished, he will be going back to Ethiopia, maybe this coming Thursday, March 14."

Madison stated: "Aweke is an Ethiopian of Christian decent who began working in Saudi Arabia six years ago. But at some point, the name on his passport and Saudi identity card was changed to Ismail Abubakr, possibly to facilitate job openings in the strict Islamic nation. Two months before his arrest, Aweke professed personal faith in Christ and become involved in an Ethiopian house church in Jeddah."

It appears that Moreno's departure has been stalled by unresolved issues with his Saudi employer. After working in Saudi Arabia for 16 years, the Filipino driver and car mechanic has accrued considerable work benefits that his employer is reluctant to honor. A foreigner's official Saudi sponsor must sign his exit visa before the employee is allowed to leave the country.

Dennis Moreno's wife, Yolly, reported that the "consulate is doing nothing. " She said she would go to the consulate to get a power-of-attorney form for her husband to sign, and then take it to be filed at the Labor Office, so that he would get his contractual benefits.

"But in Saudi Arabia, it is very hard for a female," she shared. "So I have to press more, to push more." While her husband has been jailed the past six months, Yolly Moreno has continued her daily shifts as a full-time nurse in Jeddah, while caring for their two school-age children and seven-month-old baby.

Meanwhile, Moreno and Aweke remain jailed in the Bremen deportation center, described last week by a former prisoner as "a shed for sheep or pigs."

After his release, one of the 14 Christian prisoners, Prabhu Isaac stated, "It was like hell for me. It can only accommodate 400 people, but when we came, there were 1,200 people there. There was no place to stand or sit or sleep, and only three toilets."

Isaac said that while there, he was forced to watch the lashing of three of his fellow Christians from Ethiopia, in front of 500 other prisoners. The three Ethiopians -- Tinsaie Gizachew, Bahru Mengistu and Gebeyehu Tefera -- were given 80 lashes each with a steel cable on January 28, after an Ethiopian Muslim cooperating with local jail authorities accused them of "preaching against Islam and the prophet Mohammed" among the other prisoners.