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Saudis pressed to release Ethiopian Christians comment (0)

February 23, 2012

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, America’s congressionally approved watchdog for global religious liberty, has called on Saudi Arabia to release 35 Ethiopian Christians arrested during a prayer meeting and imprisoned for nearly two months.

Saudi police raided a private home in Jeddah on Dec. 15 and arrested the 29 women and six men gathered to pray, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).

There have been reports that the Christians — some who have lived in Saudi Arabia for as many as 16 years — will be deported to Ethiopia. In a Feb. 7 phone interview, some of the prisoners told ICC they had not been informed they would be released, according to the organization, which aids persecuted Christians overseas.

Saudi authorities have charged the Ethiopians with “mixing with the opposite sex,” Christian leaders told ICC. Saudi Arabian law prohibits males and females who are not members of the same family from being in the same room, ICC reported.

“The Saudi officials are accusing the Christians of committing the crime of mixing of sexes because if they charge them with meeting for practicing Christianity, they will come under pressure from the international human rights organizations as well as Western countries,” a Saudi Christian leader told ICC. “In fact, when an employer of one of the detainees asked for the reason for their employee’s arrest, the Saudi official told him that it was for practicing Christianity.”

Saudi officials strip-searched the women, including searches of their body cavities, and physically abused the men, some of the Ethiopians told ICC in a phone conversation from prison.

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