Aleteia

Saudi “Religious Police” Release 28 Christians

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Experts point to broader problems with Islamic kingdom’s religious freedom policies.

The 28 Christians who were arrested in Saudi Arabia for worshiping in a private home have been released, according to information obtained by the organization International Christian Concern.

“It was reported to ICC that 27 of the group were held overnight and then released the next day (Saturday),” Todd Daniels, the religious freedom group’s Middle East manager, told Aleteia today. “One of the men, a leader of the group, was held until Sunday morning. ICC was told that the explanation for that was that a sponsor for his visa was out of the country and had to be consulted before he was released.”

The Saudi Gazette, basing its article on Alsharq daily of Qatar, reported that officers of the “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” (known as the Haia) responded to a resident’s report of “suspicious activities” in a house in the city of Khafji. The tip alleged that an Indian man had turned his residence into a church. Authorities surveilled the house and finally raided it on Sept. 5, arresting men, women and children. They also seized copies of the Bible and various musical instruments.

Daniels said the persons arrested were largely expatriate workers from South Asia. “They have met regularly for quite some time without serious incident,” he said.

“The Haia members who stormed the house found the men, women and children engaged in religious rituals in one of the rooms,” said the Gazette article.

Daniels said down the road, the individuals who were detained might have difficulty renewing their visas, if something was added to their files from this incident, “but that is not known at this point.”

But the arrest is emblematic of a broader problem. Public worship of any religion besides Islam is banned in the kingdom, where Sunnis make up more than 90 percent of the population.

"Saudi Arabia is continuing the religious cleansing that has always been its official policy," Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told FoxNews.com. "It is the only nation state in the world with the official policy of banning all churches. This is enforced even though there are over 2 million Christian foreign workers in that country. Those victimized are typically poor, from Asian and African countries with weak governments."

“The policy of the Saudi government to not allow for any non-Sunni Muslim religious services continues to create massive human rights and religious freedom issues such as this,” Daniels said. “There are millions of foreign workers living in the country and they are forced to meet in secret, and as in this case, even that is not enough. We continue to urge the Saudi government to take steps to allow for religious freedoms for all those living in the Kingdom and to also take a firm stance to confront the religious rhetoric that often drives persecution of minorities both in Saudi Arabia and that is exported around the world.