RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (Worthy News)-- Two Indian Christian men working in Saudi Arabia were behind bars Tuesday, March 22, after they were sentenced to 45 days imprisonment for allegedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, rights activists said.
Vasantha Sekhar and Nese Yohan were detained and arrested March 11 in the Batha area of the capital Riyadh on charges of "proselytizing", or attempted conversion, said advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC), citing its contacts in Saudi Arabia.
There was no immediate comment from Saudi or Indian officials.
An ICC representative said his group believes the two workers were arrested to keep them from practicing Christianity privately in their home. "These two Christians have faced false charges and false evidence," ICC Advocacy Director Logan Maurer told Worthy News in a statement. "The Saudi government continues to engage in an array of severe violations of human rights as part of its repression of freedom of religion," Maurer added.
While in prison awaiting trial, their apartment was reportedly ransacked, apparently by Saudi security forces.
Christians said the two workers face uncertainty regarding their future. An employer has allegedly returned the passport of one of the Christians, saying his job is no longer available and that he will be expelled from the country. The other Christian awaits information regarding his legal status and job, ICC said.
It was not immediately clear what impact the case would have on other foreign workers, including Christians, who have been a key element in Saudi Arabia's economy.
Rights groups say Saudi Arabia, a strict Islamic nation, has a long history of cracking down on Christians. In 2004, 28 Indian workers were reportedly arrested in Messriam for practicing Christianity. The charges were eventually dropped, but in 2010 brought up again leading to the deportation of one worker, while another person was arrested, ICC explained.
In another case, 16 Indian workers were allegedly arrested in February 2008, and then released after three days. In 2010, eight left the country of their own accord and three of the remaining eight were issued deportation orders and expelled, ICC investigators said.
ICC has urged its supporters to contact Saudi Arabia officials and "politely ask them to release and not expel vulnerable religious communities of Saudi Arabia."
A recent United States State Department report on religious freedom expressed concerns about the situation of religious minorities in the country.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner said the public practice of non-Muslim religions remains prohibited, and that the Saudi government has not acted on pledges to rid textbooks of religious incitement. "...There still continues to be in the Saudi textbooks, references, very negative, stereotypical references to Christians, Jews and others, which regard as offensive," he told reporters following the release of the report in November.
Saudi authorities have denied human rights abuses and recently urged political activists not to repeat pro-democracy demonstrations in other Arabic nations.
In a statement to the Saudi Press Agency, the Interior Ministry said this month that demonstrations are prohibited "because these contradict the principles of Islamic law (Sharia) and the values and norms of the Saudi society; they further lead to public disorder, harm to public and private interests, breach of the rights of others, and to wreaking havoc that result in bloodshed." (With reporting by Worthy ews' Stefan J. Bos).