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Press Release — January 30, 2002

SAUDI ARABIA TORTURES CHRISTIAN PRISONERS

Detained Christians fear for their lives

Reports of torture follow statement from Saudi Embassy in Washington saying, “You release our prisoners here and we will release yours there.”

THE FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY FROM EXCERPTS TRANSLATED AND PARAPHRASED FROM A LETTER ICC RECEIVED FROM 3 ETHIOPIAN CHRISTIANS DESCRIBING THE HORRENDOUS ORDEAL OF TORTURE, TERROR, AND TORMENT THEY HAVE BEEN THROUGH AT THE HANDS OF AN OFFICIAL AT THE BREMEN DEPORTATION PRISON IN JEDDAH. THE 3 ETHIOPIANS ARE BAHARU MENGISTU, TINSAE GEZACHEW, AND GEBEYEHU TEFERA. THE TORTUROUS TREATMENT WAS IN RETALIATION FOR A PETITION SENT TO THE ETHIOPIAN CONSULATE IN JEDDAH DESCRIBING THEIR SITUATION IN THE BREMEN DEPORTATION PRISON IN JEDDAH. THE 3 CHRISTIANS WERE NEVER CHARGED BUT SOURCES SAY THEY WERE ARRESTED DUE TO THEIR CHRISTIAN FAITH.

“On January 28, 2002 by order of the Bremen Prison Commander Major Bender Sultan Shabani and with no hearing, trial, or process of law, we were illegally subjected to severe punishment and physical abuse. Being suspended with chains, each of us were flogged 80 times with a flexible metal cable, and also severely kicked and beaten with anything that came into their hands. This was witnessed by over 1,000 deportees.

“Our bodies are wounded, swollen, terribly bruised, and with great pain. Baharu’s kidney may have been damaged and he is passing blood with his urine. When we reported to the prison hospital for treatment, we were slapped and told to come back after we were dead. It seems as if we were brought to Bremen Deportation Prison to be tortured and tormented to death.

“One Ethiopian-Yemeni named Ahmed is the primary instigator of all of this. He is an extortionist who has for a long time been intimidating and threatening Ethiopian Christians working in Jeddah. If they will not pay him blackmail money, he invents serious false charges such as having blasphemed Islam, and reports it to his connections with the Saudi authorities.

“Ahmed has been doing some work for the Bremen Prison during this time, and has been continually threatening us, and anyone who comes to visit us. He tells visitors that he will put them in prison also the way he did us. We believe he is also the mastermind behind the delays for our deportation using his connections with prison officials.

“A few days before this incident, we sent a petition to the Ethiopian Consulate in Jeddah, with copies to government offices in Addis Ababa, various media sources, and international human rights organizations. In this letter we described our present situation. We have now been imprisoned for 6 months for being followers of the Christian faith, having never been formally charged with anything.

“Finally about 4 weeks ago, Governor Prince Abdul Majid decided on our deportation after much pressure from several governments and international human rights organizations. By the way, we believe this governor had no knowledge of our recent beating and torture and needs to be informed of this incident. Since then we have been transferred from the Sharafiah Prison to one deportation facility for a few days, and then to this inhumane deportation cell of the Bremen Prison.

“The room we are in is only 11.5 X 30 meters, with at times up to 1,800 men of all nationalities crammed into this tiny space. There is no furniture – no space to lie down except for short naps taken in shifts on the floor. About 80% of the inmates including us have been infected with contagious diseases. Some have AIDS. The toilets are overflowing. The food is not clean. When we complain, we are chained and handcuffed as punishment.

“In our petition letter of a few days before this incident in which we cited Ahmed’s actions to our Consulate, we also complained of our Ethiopian Consulate’s lack of concern over our welfare. The person they had been sending to the prison is a low level worker, Mr. Mahdi, coming only about once a week, and then making excuses for and siding with our jailers as if he were the Saudi spokesman, instead of advocating for our grave situation.

“There were also Eritrean Christians during this same period who were in prison with us. These Christians even had visits from their ambassador, which resulted in their release some time ago. But our embassy did not care or assign a qualified official to follow up on our deportation process.

“A few days after our petition letter with the references to Ahmed was delivered to the Ethiopian Consulate, Mr. Mahdi and another consulate representative came to the prison. Ahmed was also working on that day and in front of our representatives began cursing and insulting us. We asked our representatives to take action, and Mahdi left saying he was going to tell the Commander Major. He came back to say he had reported it, but then we believe he left with Ahmed to make arrangements for our flogging. We believe that Mahdi must have had some kind of prior relationship with this Ahmed. We know that Mr. Mahdi informed Ahmed about the reference to him in our petition to the Consulate and Embassy of Ethiopia.

“So this is our current situation. All of us have cleared everything necessary to be deported. Baharu has tickets to fly with his 8-month pregnant wife to Ethiopia on Saturday February 2nd. We hope there will not be a delay because of this flogging and our present condition. Please pass this information on to all concerned including the President and Prime Minister of Ethiopia; the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry; Ethiopian Embassy in WA DC; the Saudi Embassy in WA DC; International Christian Concern (ICC), the BBC and CNN, the Addis Tribune, the UN Human Rights Commission, interested and concerned Senators and Congressmen in the US Government, and also concerned government officials and agencies in Europe. Thank you.”

After a representative with ICC spent several hours late last night disseminating this latest information, and confronting an Ethiopian Consulate official in Jeddah by phone, there seems at least a little progress. The Ethiopian Vice Consul and his assistant have now personally made several visits to the prison today, along with arrangements with Saudi prison officials to take Baharu to a hospital for treatment. We have just learned though that Baharu has now refused medical treatment, fearing it may be a convenient place for them to finish him off, and blame it on medical complications. Fortunately, some medication has been sent to him by friends from the outside.