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Religious Freedom Internationally
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Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is located in the Middle East, and neighbours Yemen, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. 90% of the population is Arab and 10% is Afro-Asian. All Saudis officially adhere to Islam; however, about 93% of the population is Muslim and 4.5% is Christian.

Saudi Arabia once had a large Christian population that was expelled when Islam gained control 1,300 years ago. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is almost entirely desert, but contains 25% of the world's known oil reserves. Enormous oil wealth produces two-thirds of government revenue and is used to improve services, develop industries and finance Islamic expansion around the world.

In 1992, the Saudi royal family introduced the country's first constitution.

Religious Freedom

Considering itself the guardian of Islam's holiest sites, Saudi Arabia forbids all other religions. There is no law or Constitutional provision for the freedom of religion or protection of faith groups other than Sunni Muslims, though the private worship of non-Muslims is officially legal. Islamic (Sharia) Law is the basis of the Saudi legal system. Evangelism is illegal in Saudi Arabia, and apostasy, conversion to another religion, is punishable by death. Christian workers are not permitted in Saudi Arabia and all Christian literature is banned. Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering Islam's holiest city, Mecca.

Saudi Arabia’s poor record with religious freedom and human rights is the direct result of a corrupt judicial system, religious police (mutawwa), and the corroboration of the government. It has been reported that despite the persecution, there is a substantial and growing number of Christians in Saudi Arabia. All converts discovered in the past have been executed.

Christian expatriates live under strict surveillance. Underground churches are searched for with diligence by the government, and leaders are sometimes subjected to humiliating beatings, imprisonment, expulsion, or even execution. Asian Christians, who have often been the most effective witnesses and whose governments have the least international clout are specifically targeted by authorities.

International Treaties Signed by Saudi Arabia

The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Canada-Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Relations

Information about Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia
Canadian Embassy in Saudi Arabia
Canadian representatives in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s representatives in Canada


For prayer requests, see the alerts, or the general page of prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Related Links

General information about Saudi Arabia
Information about human rights in Saudi Arabia
Information about the persecuted Church in Saudi Arabia  (from the Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

Related EFC Religious Liberty Commission Alerts

Note: Alerts are in reverse chronological order, beginning with most recent.

Saudi Red Tape Delays Foreign Christians' Release: Eight Prisoners, Several Families Still Await Deportation

by Barbara G. Baker, Compass Direct News

Istanbul, January 21 (Compass) -- Six of 14 foreign Christians slated for deportation from Saudi Arabia have been released for return to their home countries during the past 10 days. But another eight prisoners and their families remain entangled in a process that could take weeks to resolve.

From Eritrea, India, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Nigeria, the foreign nationals were jailed in a rash of arrests that began last July and lasted into September. Although all had legal residence and work permits in Saudi Arabia, local authorities have refused to give any reason for their detention. Kebrom Haile from Ethiopia was believed to be the first of the group to be deported when he was flown to Addis Ababa on January 12. Haile's wife, who recently gave birth to their first child, reportedly has not yet been able to join her husband. Another five Christians left the deportation center last Friday, January 18, and were successfully processed through the airport immigration services to board flights back to their home countries: Afobunor Okey Buliamin to Nigeria, Iskander Menghis to Eritrea, and Genet Haileab, Mesfin Berhanu and Suleiman Keder to Ethiopia.

Only Menghis was accompanied by his family -- a wife and five children. However, Buliamin's wife and two small children are ticketed to fly out of Jeddah tonight on a Nigeria Airways flight to Lagos. According to a representative of the Nigerian Consulate, Mrs. Buliamin's official Saudi sponsor had over the past two weeks "refused to cooperate" in obtaining an exit visa for her, "most likely" to avoid paying for the family's return tickets. With no other option, the Nigerian Consulate intervened for the family to be processed through the deportation center today and sent directly to the airport. "I am very much concerned about the children," a consulate representative told Compass. "They will not stay at the deportation center," he stressed, noting that it was notoriously dirty and crowded.

Buliamin's wife telephoned Compass this afternoon from her home in Jeddah, confirming that her luggage was already checked in to Nigeria Airways, and she had been processed to leave with her children on this evening's flight to Lagos. However, after she got to the airport, the flight was cancelled, again delaying their departure. Meanwhile, Jeddah immigration officials turned back Indian national Prabhu Isaac for the second time last night when he was sent to the airport to board his flight to Madras. According to official computers, Isaac's wife Socila was still listed on his passport as living in Saudi Arabia, so he could not leave without her.

In fact, Mrs. Isaac had been granted an exit visa and returned to India on January 13. She herself only made it out on her third try, since immigration computers still listed on her passport their two children, who had returned to India more than six months ago. "There were some errors in the computer," a representative of the Indian Consulate said today. "But now it has been confirmed that his wife left earlier. So his ticket has been sent to the airport, and he will leave on the next flight." Isaac's daughter Joanna confirmed by telephone from India that she expected her father to be on the Thursday night flight, arriving in Madras on Friday morning.

Another six Christians remain on hold at the Breman deportation center near the Jeddah airport, while their employers and consulates finalize exit formalities with Saudi authorities. All have vehicles or other property registered in their names that must be transferred to another owner before their release is approved. The remaining Christians were identified by the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) as Filipino Dennis Moreno, Eritrean Yusuf Girmaye, and four Ethiopians -- Tinsaie Gizachew, Bahru Mengistu, Beferdu Fikri and Gebeyehu Tefera. According to Moreno's wife Yolly, the cars still registered in her husband's name are not his only problem. In fact, the plane ticket purchased for Moreno by his employer has turned up missing. Although his employer said the ticket was given to authorities at the Trahyl deportation center in early January, officials at the Breman facility where theChristians were transferred on January 8 denied the Filipino ever had a ticket.

"Sometimes these people are very tricky," Mrs. Moreno commented. She said that she had been told that a guard at the first facility had sold the ticket to another deportee, who then used it to leave the country. "Please pray that we can find out where the ticket is and get all the car papers turned over soon." After working in Saudi Arabia for 16 years, Moreno is due considerable work benefits under his contract agreements. Two weeks ago, he told Compass that the financial settlement could be a point of contention with his company, before the owner agreed to process his exit visa. One other prisoner, Ethiopian Ismail Abubakr [previously identified only as "Worku"], was reportedly moved on January 8 to the Matta Jail near Mecca to facilitate his discharge through his employer living there.

Formal charges were never filed against the foreign Christians, who were refused all diplomatic access until their transfer to a deportation center in late December. While under arrest, the men were interrogated about their involvement in Jeddah in private "house church" meetings, which are prohibited under the kingdom's strict version of Islamic law. After being held incommunicado a number of weeks, they were allowed limited family visits.

Copyright 2002 Compass Direct

Compass Direct Flash News is distributed as available to raise awareness of Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Articles may bereprinted by active subscribers only.

Saudi Arabia: Six of the Detained Christians Allowed to Leave the Country

(Source: Middle East Concern, Compass Direct News)

Six of the fourteen Christians detained for holding church services in Saudi Arabia have now been allowed to leave the country. As of January 21, however, eight more remain in detention centres and jails because of problems with their paperwork. The wife of one released man has had difficulty leaving the country because her employer has not completed the work on her exit visa, and has had to stay in Saudi Arabia with her children while her husband was sent home to Nigeria. Another released man has repeatedly been turned back by airport immigration officials because the computer shows his wife and family as still present in Saudi Arabia-- even though his children have been out of the country for six months and his wife left for India on January 13. A third man, who is still being kept in detention, has seen his mandatory plane ticket home to the Philippines mysteriously 'disappear' while in the hands of officials at his detention centre.

• Praise God for granting the release of six detainees and most of their families. Thank him that this ordeal is over for these men. Thank him for working on behalf of the remaining eight men.
• Pray for the eight men still in detention and their families. Pray that their Saudi employers would be like the Egyptians who showered the departing Hebrew slaves with gifts and helped them on their way. Pray that each of the administrative barriers to the exit of the eight men and their families would fall quickly. Pray that there would be no more errors or thefts.
• Pray that these men would be witnesses of Christ's love and forgiveness to their guards and employers. Pray that everyone in Saudi Arabia who has had contact with these men would be impacted by the Gospel.
• Pray for the future of all 14 men and their families. They have lost their jobs and any hope of working in Saudi Arabia. Pray that God would provide for them financially and rebuild the family relationships disrupted by months of imprisonment. Pray for spiritual, emotional and physical healing for the detainees and their families.

Christians held by the Saudi government for taking part in Christian meetings.

(Source: World Evangelical Fellowship)

Saudi Arabia is one of the most difficult places in the world to worship Jesus today. At least 12 Christians, citizens of India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Philippines are detained in Saudi prisons right now for holding Christian meetings in private homes and for being a 'Christian witness.' At least three of the men have been beaten, and most have now been held for over 5 months. Requests for consular access have been repeatedly denied. Please pray for the families of these men as they celebrate Christmas without their fathers and brothers and sons-- often the only breadwinners. Please pray that the light of Jesus would be with these men in prison. Pray for God's people as they celebrate Christ's birth in secret.

Men arrested and held in Saudi Arabia for holding church services

(Source: Compass Direct, Middle East Concern, Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

The Saudi government has been holding 13 men in a Jeddah jail for holding a church service. The government began the arrests in mid July and continued into the first week of September. All 13 men are members of small expatriate congregations meeting for Christian worship in private homes. Under the strict Saudi interpretation of Islamic law, non-Muslims are forbidden to meet for public worship. As citizens of India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Philippines, the Christians were all legally employed by Saudi companies at the time of their arrests. Their families, who are still living in Saudi Arabia, are without an income while their husbands and fathers are imprisoned. The families of these men have asked people to write to the Saudi authorities requesting that the men be included in the "Ramadan pardon" which is customarily granted in Islamic countries.

• The Islamic holy month of Ramadan has now started. If you wish, you may write to the Saudi ambassador in Canada, asking that the following men be included in the Ramadan pardon.
• You may also send a copy of your letter with the appropriate salutation to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
• For the sake of the men detained, please limit your letter to a request for pardons, and do not at this time make any broader comments on the state of religious liberty in Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty International's Guide to Letter Writing
See also a sample letter at the end of this Alert.

1. Prabhu Isaac, Indian
2. Eskinder Menghis, Eritrean
3. Gabayu Tefera, Ethiopian
4. Kebrom Haile, Eritrean
5. Tinsaie Gizachew, Ethiopian
6. Afobunor Okey Buliamin (Benjamin), Nigerian
7. Mesfin Berhanu, Ethiopian
8. Bahru Mengistu, Ethiopian
9. Beferdu Fikri, Ethiopian
10. Joseph Girmaye, Eritrean
11. Dennis Raymund Rodriguez Moreno Lacalle, Filipino
12. Worku (last name not known), Ethiopian
13. Genet Haileab, Ethiopian

The addresses are:
H.E. Mohammed R. Al-Hussaini,
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Canada
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
99 Bank Street Suite 901
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1P 6B9
Salutation: Your Excellency

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia:
The Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines,
His Majesty King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud,
Office of H.M. The King, Royal Court, Riyadh,
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Salutation: Your Majesty

Your Majesty (for the King)/Your Excellency (for the Ambassador),

Peace be with you during this holy month of Ramadan.
I beseech Your Majesty/Excellency at this special time during the Islamic year to look favourably upon the following men who are imprisoned in Sharafiah prison, Jiddah in connection with their Christian faith. May I petition you to grant them a pardon to return to their families and to continue to work for the prosperity of your Kingdom. Their names are: Prabhu Isaac, Indian; Eskinder Menghis, Eritrean; Gabayu Tefera, Ethiopian; Kebrom Haile, Eritrean; Tinsaie Gizachew, Ethiopian; Afobunor Okey Buliamin (Benjamin), Nigerian; Mesfin Berhanu, Ethiopian; Bahru Mengistu, Ethiopian; Beferdu Fikri, Ethiopian; Joseph Girmaye, Eritrean; Dennis Raymund Rodriguez Moreno Lacalle, Filipino; Worku (last name not known), Ethiopian, Genet Haileab, Ethiopian.

I am very grateful for your generous consideration of this request.
Yours faithfully,

• Pray for the men who are imprisoned, that they would soon be released.
• Pray that their testimony and the testimony of their families who have suffered in their absence would shine brightly in Saudi Arabia. Pray that the witness of their families would be particularly strong before their Saudi employers. Pray that the witness of the men would be powerful before the other inmates and prison officials.
• Pray that God would break the darkness in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: At Least 13 Christians Arrested

(Source: Globe & Mail, National Post, Compass Direct, World Evangelical Fellowship, Amnesty International, Middle East Concern, Religion Today)

As we all watched with horror last week as terrorists attacked in the U.S., we pray for wisdom for world leaders as they respond to this crisis. We encourage you to pray for the following situations of war and persecution which may be affected by the current crisis as well. In late August and early September, at least 13 Christians were arrested in Saudi Arabia. All these Christians were foreign workers in Jeddah. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal to practice any religion other than Sunni Islam in public. Those arrested are all believed to have attended a meeting in Riyadh of around 400 people at which hymns were sung and a sermon preached. The Ministry of the Interior confiscated songbooks, Bibles cassettes and a computer.

• Pray for the Christians jailed in Saudi Arabia. Pray that they depend on the Lord and not lose hope. Please also pray for their release.

Saudi Arabia: Two Indian Christians arrested for carrying Christians material

(Source: Middle East Concern)

George Joseph is a Christian from India who has been working in Saudi Arabia since 1977. On June 25, he was arrested in Riyadh while carrying a video of a Christian meeting in that city. For most of the summer, George's friends were unable to locate him and the Saudi authorities even refused information to the Indian Embassy. Recently, his friends have found him and been allowed to visit him. They report that he will soon be deported to India.

Another Indian Christian was arrested in Riyadh at the end of August while carrying a cassette tape that had the word "Jesus" on it. Joseph Vergis was arrested by Mutawwas, the religious police. His whereabouts are not known although s ources at the Indian Embassy thought he was scheduled for release September 4. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state. There are severe penalties for any Muslim who converts to Christianity. It is forbidden to share the gospel.

• Please pray for protection for George Joseph and Joseph Vergis.
• Please also pray for those who are filmed on George's videotape.
• Please pray that the government of Saudi Arabia would respect the religious freedom of foreign workers and of its own people.


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