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AsiaNews – This year, Saudi Arabia is back on the list of countries “of particular concern” (CPC) to Washington . The list classifies situations in which serious violations of the right of freedom of worship are liable to sanctions. Human rights activists have confirmed the grave plight of religious minorities in the Kingdom and expressed doubts about the possibility of considering Riyadh as an ally in the international war on terrorism.

On 8 November, the US State Department presented Congress with the seventh annual report on religious freedom in the world. In 2004, the same dossier contained, for the first time, hard-hitting accusations against Saudi Arabia , where “freedom of worship does not exist”. Alongside Saudi Arabia , other countries to feature as CPC this year are: Myanmar , China , Eritrea , Iran , North Korea , Sudan and Vietnam .

On 30 September, the American Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, gave the Saudi kingdom 180 days to make progress with respect to religious minorities or else to face economic sanctions. At the end of this week, Rice is due to go to Arabia as part of a wider Middle East tour.

The Centre for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia – a no-profit organization which works alongside the USA – said that, 139 days from the ultimatum, “the Saudi government has not proposed or applied any provision”. So much so, the centre recalls the latest case of persecution against Christians in the country. On 7 October last, an Indian, Samuel Daniel, leader of a local church, was arrested in Riyadh and taken to Shumesi Deportation Center . The Indian Embassy managed to secure his release after only two days on condition that he quit the country. Samuel was forced to go, leaving his family behind in Saudi Arabia . The man was one of a group of eight Christians arrested at the end of May by the Muttawa (Saudi religious police) and released after 10 days. The police found – and confiscated – religious material in their homes.

The Centre also levelled charges of all types of violence, insults and inhumane conditions prevalent in the Shumesi Deportation Center , citing letters from detainees: “We are about 200 people in one small room and are unable to sit or stand properly… On our small rations of bread, there is written ‘food for pigs’.”

Freedom of expression is forbidden to all religions in Saudi Arabia except Islam. Any public manifestation (having a bible or wearing a cross) is forbidden. In recent years, thanks to international pressure, the Saudi crown allowed the practice of other religions but only in private. The Muttawa, however, continue to arrest, imprison and torture people who practice other faiths, even if privately.

Further, the problem of freedom of worship suffocated by Wahabi integralism, is not limited within the borders of the Kingdom: it poses a danger to other countries too. The Centre for Religious Freedom, Freedom House, drew attention to this in its report, Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques, at the beginning of the year. Two days ago, the director of Freedom House, Nina Shea, referred the Committee on the Judiciary of the US Senate to the report. In her intervention, the Catholic activist questioned whether the US should consider Arabia as “a friend or a foe in the war on terrorism”.

According to the report, which looked into dozens of mosques in main American cities, diverse and numerous publications instigating hatred against western “infidels” and violence against Schi’ites and Sufis are in circulation; the material arrives from and is financed by Riyadh which – despite its promises – does not bother to control the content. For this reason, Shea is calling on Washington to monitor more closely the real commitment of the Saudi Kindgom against the spread of inter-religious hatred and Islamic fundamentalism.