Tuesday, April 26, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (BosNewsLife)-- 40 Pakistani Christians who were detained over the weekend in Saudi Arabia for holding a joint Catholic-Protestant prayer service have been released, news reports said Monday, April 25.
Compass Direct, a Christian news agency, quoted the Pakistan Embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh as saying that the last two men of the group, identified as Sardar and Emmanuel, were released late Sunday, April 24. Church sources say "several carloads" of Islamic religious police forces from the Committee for the Propagation and the Prevention of Vice raided the worship meeting at a Riyadh home Friday, April 22.
Surrounding the house, the police reportedly halted the sermon being preached by a man identified only as Emmanuel. The police forces beat some of the worshippers, upsetting the furniture and breaking Christian artifacts and symbols as they searched through the house, Compass Direct claimed.
"The group had a wooden cross displayed at the front of the room during their prayer services,” a Pakistani clergyman was quoted as saying. “The police made one little girl in the congregation hold that cross, mocking her and taking photographs of her which appeared in a local newspaper the next day," the clergyman told Compass Direct, apparently on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Saudi officials have not commented, but observing any religion other than Islam is illegal in the Kingdom.
Earlier Reuters news agency quoted newspapers as saying that a group of men, women and children were attending the service in the capital Riyadh when police raided the house. Authorities also found Christian tapes and books, which were apparently not returned to the released believers, several news reports said.
There are around six million foreigners in the conservative kingdom, which has a population of 23 million, including many Christians from Europe, North America, Asia and other Arab states. In a rare official rebuke of a close ally last year, Washington accused Saudi Arabia of severe violations of religious freedom.
"Freedom of religion is not recognized or protected under the country's laws and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam," the State Department said in an annual report.
Analysts say that following the September 11, 2001 attacks, which were carried out by mainly Saudis, the Gulf Arab state's religious establishment came under sharp criticism by the West for allegedly fostering militancy and intolerance of other religions. (With Compass Direct and reports from the region)