Denial of Human Rights and Freedoms of Christians in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia



Ten Filipino adults arrested with five small children at a Christian worship service in Riyadh 10 days ago continue to be detained incommunicado by local authorities, the Philippines Embassy confirmed today from the Saudi capital.

The 15 arrested Christians have not been allowed diplomatic access or family visits since their arrest by Saudi "muttawa" (Islamic religious police) on January 7.

The police raid broke up a Christian gathering of some 100 persons in the home of Art and Sabalista Abreu* on the first evening of the annual holidays that celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Among the 15 arrested were the Abreus and their three children: Kristel, 12, Aaron, 10, and Keilah, 2.

The other Christians arrested were identified as Dick Mira Velez, Disdado Cadoy, Jun and Evelyn Vinegas and their two children, Paul, 6, and John, 4, Rubino Sulit, George and Elen Rivera, and Eminesio Rabea.

No official reason has been given for detention of the five children. In response to an embassy inquiry, Ministry of Interior (MOI) officials assured the Philippines Embassy that the children were all being well cared for in their detention facilities.

Filipino Christian sources in Riyadh admitted concern that MOI interrogators were using the young children as hostages, to force their parents to reveal details about the network of expatriate Christian fellowships meeting for worship in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities have confirmed to the government of the Philippines that the Christians are being held for questioning at the MOI headquarters in Malaz. But visitors will not be permitted "at this stage," the Saudi Foreign Ministry has said, until the investigation is completed.

"We were informed today that we may be allowed to see them later this week," Consul Jesus M. Domingo of the Philippines Embassy told Compass. Since Saudi offices did not reopen after the religious holiday until January 15, it was a full week after the arrests before the Philippines Embassy could file requests for consular access and early release of the Christians.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law, non-Muslim religious worship cannot be practiced publicly by the six million expatriates working in the country. Saudi officials defend the prohibition under the special status accorded the country as custodian of Islam's two most holy sites, Mecca and Medina.

Although the raided church service in the Abreu home was being held in private, Saudi authorities reportedly interfered because of the size of the group, numbering an estimated 100 people.

One diplomatic observer in Riyadh told Compass today, "In fact, discreet, small-scale Christian worship services are now being tolerated in Saudi Arabia." The January 7th meeting, he said, was larger than allowed by local ordinances for legal assembly, as well as being of a religious nature. "It was too obvious," he said. In addition, the group was a mixed crowd of men and women, which is taboo under strict Islamic restrictions.

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Saudis Free Bible Study Filipinos

.c The Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Saudi authorities have freed 12 Filipinos who had been detained in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for attending a Bible-study session, a Filipino diplomat said Wednesday.

Four Filipinos remain in prison under investigation on the same charge, said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

The 16 Filipinos - including five children - were detained during a raid by Saudi religious police on Jan. 7 as they attended a Bible study, the diplomat said. The 12 who have been released were freed in two batches on Jan. 19 and Jan. 23, the diplomat said.

Saudi Arabia, a conservative Muslim nation, does not allow any form of worship other than Islam, the country's official religion. Preaching Christianity is punishable by up to a year in prison and deportation.

The Filipino diplomat said Saudi officials told him Christians are allowed to worship in their homes, but that studying or worshipping in a larger group is illegal.

AP-NY-01-26-00 1328EST

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