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Saudi Arabia Detains East Africa Christians

ISTANBUL, June 15 (Compass Direct) – Ten Saudi Arabian police armed with wooden clubs raided a private Christian worship meeting in the coastal city of Jeddah on June 9, arresting four East African citizens leading the service.

At press time the two Ethiopian and two Eritrean Christians remained in the city’s deportation jail.

More than 100 Eritreans, Ethiopians and Filipinos were gathered for worship in a home in Jeddah’s Al-Rowaise district at 11 o’clock last Friday morning when a group of Saudi police entered the meeting, wooden clubs in hand.

The startled worshippers brought chairs to seat the policemen, who sat and waited for the three-hour worship service to conclude. None used their clubs or physically mishandled the worshippers.

“Actually, some muttawa [Muslim religious police] came to this gathering about two weeks before,” a local source told Compass, “but they did not do anything.”

But after the June 9 weekly praise and prayer service finished, police arrested four leaders of the group: Ethiopian Christians Mekbeb Telahun and Masai Wendewesen, together with Eritrean Christians Fekre Gebremedhin and Dawit Uqbay.

The four were jailed in the Jeddah Terhil (Deportation) Center, where guards have since permitted an acquaintance to bring them all a change of clothes. Three of the men are married; Wendewesen is single.

A Christian who spoke with the detainees by telephone reported they were “doing fine, with okay morale.” But he said he did not know how they were being treated, or whether they were undergoing interrogation.

According to local sources, the incident has been reported to consular officials of the Philippines and the United States .

Typically the Saudi government deports expatriate Christians caught conducting worship meetings in their homes or privately owned villas, forcing their employers to terminate their work contracts.

Under the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, public non-Muslim worship is prohibited, although members of the royal family insist that Christians are free to worship within their own homes.

Last year five East Africans were detained for a month for leading a private Christian worship service in Riyadh .