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Press Release — January 2, 2002

Hopes Dashed For Promised Release Of Detained Christians In Saudi Arabia

Health Concerns Mount as Prison Conditions Worsen

Recent news about the promised “release” of nine of the fourteen Christians detained in Saudi Arabia has taken another turn for the worse. Early today, ICC received word from sources in Jeddah that the nine detained being held at the Trahyl Deportation Center are discouraged and very concerned.

The names of the nine expatriate Christians currently detained are: Ibrahim Mohammed Gebeyehu Tefera, Tinsaie Gizachew, Baharu Mengistu and Beferdu Fikre, Ethiopian; Eskinder Menghis and Kebrom Haile, Eritrean; Prabu Issac, Indian; Benjamin Buliamin, Nigerian; and Dennis Moreno, Filipino.

The other five are being held at the Sharafiah Ruis prison near Jeddah. Their names are: Mubarek Berhanu, Ethiopian; Teshome Kebret Toshama, Ethiopian; Genet Haileab Araya, nationality unknown; Yusuf Girmaye; nationality unknown; and a fifth man only known as Worku.

According to the ICC source, the promised “release” has turned out to be a lie by the Saudi authorities and their detention could continue for another several months. Some have already been detained for nearly six months.

Nine of the Christians were transferred to the Terahyl Deportation Prison on December 24th after being told that they would soon be released. One of the detained Christians reported: “This prison is worse than the last. Conditions are very bad. Some 200 to 300 prisoners are crowded into one room. Some of the prisoners have committed dangerous crimes. We sleep on a cold concrete floor. The food is prepared in unsanitary conditions and should be fed only to pigs. The toilet is filthy and overcrowded. There is poor ventilation in the cells and the rain leaks into the building. Five of the men are sick. Prabu Issac, Benjamin Buliamin, Kabrom Haile, Beferdu Fikre are suffering from dysentery and influenza. Eskinder needs insulin. None have received medical attention.”

International standards for human rights have been ignored. The imprisoned men are not allowed visits from family and friends. They have not been allowed to settle personal financial matters, nor have then been allowed to receive the benefits normally provided by their employers.

The Ministry of Interior has refused exit visas to three of the wives of detained Christians Bahru Mengistu, Benjamin Buliamin, and Prabu Issac. They are being held against their will. Officials from the Ministry of Interior told the three women that they must go stay with their husbands at the unsanitary deportation prison. Bahru’s wife, Membere, is seven months pregnant.

ICC President Steven Snyder is concerned about the health of the fourteen detainees and fears that the promised release may now turn into several more months of continued imprisonment. Mr. Snyder said, “In addition to the health problems of five of the men, one of the Christians, Prabu Issac, was injured while walking along the poorly lit passage to the toilet. He fell through an open manhole. Every day these men remain incarcerated for their Christian faith places them at further risk. Clearly, the way they have been treated is nothing less than Saudi-sponsored terrorism. All Christians should be outraged and we should let President Bush know this.”

Recently, the son of one of the detained Christians wrote a letter to ICC appealing for help for his father.

I am the son of Eskinder Menghis, a Christian prisoner in Jeddah Saudi Arabia. I am a 14 years old. My brothers: Hani 12 years, Nahome 11 years, Temesgen 4 years and my sister Sina 6 years, together with our mother Temnit, are facing big problems since my father was arrested on July 25 by MOI agents. We didn’t get a chance to visit our father even to hear his voice. We are not able to pay for our schooling, house rent, and the provisions in the house are getting scarce day by day. Please help us!
Signed: Philmon Eskinder

All fourteen men were arrested between July and September. None were formally charged. The reason for their arrest is likely related to their involvement in expatriate house churches that meet in private homes. Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic law prohibits public worship by members of faiths other than Sunni Islam.