Saudi Authorities Arrest Christian Convert
Blogger incarcerated after writing about conversion,
criticizing Islamic judiciary.
By Jeff M. Sellers
LOS ANGELES, Five months after the daughter of a member of Saudi Arabia’s religious police was killed for writing
online about her faith in Christ, Saudi authorities have reportedly arrested a 28-year-old Christian man for describing his
conversion and criticizing the kingdom’s judiciary on his Web site.
Saudi police arrested Hamoud Bin Saleh on
Jan. 13 “because of his opinions and his testimony that he had converted from Islam to Christianity,” according
to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). Bin Saleh, who had been detained for nine months in 2004 and again
for a month last November, was reportedly being held in Riyadh’s Eleisha prison.
On his web site, which Saudi authorities have
blocked, Bin Saleh wrote that his journey to Christ began after witnessing the public beheading of three Pakistanis convicted
of drug charges. Shaken, he began an extensive study of Islamic history and law, as well as Saudi justice. He became disillusioned
with sharia (Islamic law) and dismayed that kingdom authorities only prosecuted poor Saudis and foreigners.
“I was convinced that the wretched Pakistanis
were executed in accordance with the Muhammadan laws just because they are poor and have no money or favored positions, which
they had no control or power over,” he wrote in Arabic in his Dec. 22 posting, referring to “this terrible prejudice
in the application of justice in Saudi Arabia.”
A 2003 graduate in English literature from
Al Yarmouk University in Jordan, Bin Saleh’s research led him to an exploration of other faiths, and in his travels
he gained access to a Bible.
“My mind was persistently raising questions and desperately seeking answers,” he wrote. “I
went on vacations to read about comparative religion, and I got the Bible, and I used to give these books to anyone before
going back to Saudi, as going back there with such books is considered an unforgivable crime which will throw its perpetrator
in a dark jail.”
After reading how Jesus forgave – rather
than stoned – a woman condemned for adultery, Bin Saleh eventually received Christ as savior.
“Jesus . . . took us beyond physical
salvation as he offered us forgiveness that is the salvation of eternal life and compassion,” he wrote. “Just
look and ask for the light of God; there might be no available books to help you make a comparative study between the teachings
of Muhammad (which are in my opinion a series of political, social, economical and human disasters) and the teaching of Jesus
in Saudi Arabia, but there are many resources on the Web by which you might get to the bosom/arms of the Father of salvation.
Seek salvation and you will reach it; may the Lord keep you from the devil’s pitfalls.”
With the Quran and sayings of
Muhammad (Sunna) as its constitution, Saudi Arabia enforces a form of sharia derived from 18th-century Sunni scholar
Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab that calls for the death penalty for “blasphemy,” or insulting Islam or its prophet, Muhammad. Likewise, conversion from Islam to another faith, “apostasy,”
is punishable by death, although the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report notes that
there have been no confirmed reports of executions for either blasphemy or apostasy in recent years.
ruling monarchy restricts media and other forms of public expression, though authorities have shown some tolerance for criticism
and debate since King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud officially ascended to the throne in 2005, according to the state department
A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy
in Washington, D.C. would neither confirm the Jan. 13 arrest of Bin Saleh nor comment on the reasons for it.
Writing that both Islam and Saudi Arabia promote
injustice and inequality, Bin Saleh described himself as a researcher/writer bent on obtaining full rights of the Christian
minority in Saudi Arabia.
He noted on his now-banned Web site (“Masihi Saudi,”
at http://christforsaudi.blogspot.com) that he had been arrested twice, the first time in Beirut, Lebanon on Jan. 18, 2004. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
office there had notified Saudi authorities that he had been accepted as a “refugee for ideological persecution reasons,”
he wrote, but a few days later intelligence agents from the Saudi embassy in Beirut, “with collusion of Lebanese authorities
and the government of [former Prime Minister] Rafik Al-Hariri,” turned him over to Saudi officials.
After nine months of detention in Saudi Arabia,
he was released but banned from traveling, writing and appearing in media.
He was arrested a second time on Nov. 1, 2008.
“I was interrogated for a month about some articles by which I condemned the Saudi regime’s violation of human
rights and [rights of] converts to Christianity,” he wrote.
During a Saudi-sponsored, inter-faith dialogue conference at U.N.
headquarters in New York involving representatives from 80 countries on Nov. 12-13, according to ANHRI, Saudi authorities
released Bin Saleh, then promptly re-arrested him after it was over.
His November arrest came a little less than
a year after political critic Fouad Ahmad al-Farhan became the first Saudi to be arrested for Web site postings on Dec. 10,
2007; Al-Farhan was released in April 2008.
In August 2008, a 26-year-old woman was killed
for disclosing her faith on a Web site. Fatima Al-Mutairi reportedly had revealed on Web postings that she had left Islam
to become a Christian.
Gulfnews.com reported on Aug. 12, 2008 that
her father, a member of the religious police or Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention
of Vice, cut out her tongue and burned her to death “following a heated debate on religion.” Al-Mutairi
had written about hostilities from family members after they discovered she was a Christian, including insults from her brother
after he saw her Web postings about her faith. Some reports indicated that her brother was the one who killed her.
She had reportedly written
an article about her faith on a blog of which she was a member under the nickname “Rania” a few days before her
by Compass Direct News
Pastor in Saudi Arabia Flees Death Threats
Religious police, others warn key figure
in expatriate church to leave.
By Jeff M. Sellers
LOS ANGELES, A prominent foreign pastor in Saudi Arabia has fled Riyadh after a member of the mutawwa’in,
or religious police, and others threatened him three times in one week.
Two of the incidents
included threats to kill house church pastor Yemane Gebriel of Eritrea. On Wednesday (Jan. 28), Gebriel escaped to an undisclosed
city in Saudi Arabia.
A father of eight
who has lived and worked as a private driver in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, Gebriel told Compass that on Jan. 10 he found an
unsigned note on his vehicle threatening to kill him if he did not leave the country. On Jan. 13, he said, mutawwa’in
member Abdul Aziz and others forced him from his van and told him to leave the country.
a note on my van saying, ‘If you do not leave the country, we will kill you,” Gebriel told Compass by telephone.
“Three days after that, [Aziz] said, ‘You’re still working here, why don’t you go out of the country?”
Aziz, another member of the mutawwa’in
and a policeman had waited for Gebriel shortly after 9 p.m. A sheikh at a Riyadh mosque, Aziz raged at Gebriel for about five minutes, accusing him of being a Christian and trying to change the religion of others,
said a Christian source in Saudi Arabia.
“He finished by telling Yemane to
get out of the country or ‘measures’ would be taken,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security
reasons. He said Gebriel was in genuine danger of losing his life. “In meeting with me on the morning of Thursday, Jan.
15, Yemane himself was clearly very frightened,” said the source.
That night (Jan. 15), Gebriel told Compass,
four masked men – apparently Saudis – in a small car cut off the van he was driving. “They said, ‘We
will kill you if you don’t go away from this place – you must leave here or we will kill you,’” he
Gebriel subsequently took temporary refuge
in a safe house in Riyadh, and after consulting with consular officials from four embassies on Tuesday (Jan. 27), the pastor
was whisked away to another city the following day.
In 2005, the religious police’s Aziz
had directed that Gebriel be arrested along with 16 other foreign Christian leaders, though diplomatic pressure resulted in
their release within weeks.
“No doubt Sheikh Abdul Aziz is still burning,”
said the local Christian source. “Nor may such type of death threat be possibly idle words. The current situation and
circumstance remind me very much of the machine-gun murder of Irish Roman Catholic layman Tony Higgins right here in Riyadh
in August 2004.”
Gebriel, 42, led
a church of more than 300 foreign-born Christians, though because of work obligations only a little over 150 are able to meet
regularly in his villa for Friday worship. He fled without his family,
as his wife and children had managed to relocate in Egypt in August 2007.
Gebriel and three others started the house church in
Riyadh 10 years ago, the local source said, and only a few months ago the pastor handed leadership over to others in the church.
“But right now the entire church is very frightened,”
the source said. “They are expecting a raid one Friday shortly – just like in 2005. The congregation doesn’t
even know yet that we have whisked Yemane away from them as well as from the religious police.”
In April and May of 2005, the mutawwa’in arrested
17 pastors – two Pakistanis, two Eritreans (including Gebriel), three Ethiopians and 10 Indians. None were deported
after their release.
“Are there signs that 2009 might prove to be such
a year again? I think so,” the source said. “Every three or four years, there is a clamp-down in Riyadh. It seems
that we should expect 2009 to be a year of repression. However, the underground church here is far better placed than heretofore
to manage any such persecution.”
The Saudi regime has reportedly begun to
restrain the mutawwa’in, which historically has acted as a virtual vigilante force enforcing the kingdom’s Sunni
Islamic social codes as volunteer agents of the semi-autonomous Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice. The U.S. Department
of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report noted that abuses by mutawwa’in have continued.
“Mutawwa’in (religious police) continued
to conduct raids of private non-Muslim religious gatherings,” the report states. “There were also charges of harassment, abuse, and killings at the hands of the mutawwa’in,
or religious police. These incidents caused many non-Muslims to worship in fear of, and in such a manner as to avoid discovery
by, the police and mutawwa’in.”
In the past year, mutawwa’in sometimes
have not respected the Saudi policy of allowing private worship for all, including non-Muslims, according to the report. Religious
police are not allowed to mete out punishment, but in the past year the Saudi government has investigated several incidents
in which the mutawwa’in were accused of violating restrictions on that and other activities, according to the state
The mutawwa’in still wear no uniforms,
but the report notes that they are now required to wear identification badges and can act only when accompanied by police.
They are authorized to monitor the practice of non-Muslim faiths, display or sale of pornography, alcohol production, distribution
or consumption, and adultery, homosexuality and gambling, among other violations.
While Saudi law forbids public practice of any religion
besides Islam, foreigners are generally allowed to worship privately if their congregations do not grow too large.
With the Quran and sayings of Muhammad
(Sunna) as its constitution, Saudi Arabia enforces a form of sharia (Islamic law) derived from 18th-century
Sunni scholar Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab that calls for the death penalty for “apostasy,” or conversion from Islam to another faith, although the state department’s report notes that
there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years.
Saudi Arabia’s ruling
monarchy restricts media and other forms of public expression, though recently authorities have tolerated criticism of the
mutawwa’in and the Commission to Promote Virtue
and Prevent Vice.
“The government-controlled press
frequently criticized mutawwa’in activity,” the report adds.
Provided by Compass Direct News