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Christian Arrests Contradict Saudi’s Promotion of Religious Tolerance

04/19/2012 International Christian Concern (Washington, D.C.)- Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians remain behind bars after being arrested in December for holding a prayer meeting at a private home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Despite international pressure, Saudi officials have refused to release the prisoners which blatantly contradicts the kingdom’s recent promotion of religious tolerance.

Saudi police officers raided the prayer meeting on December 15. The Christians, mostly women, are being held in Briman jail. The prisoners are in need of proper medical attention and are suffering from malnutrition. Despite health concerns, the Christians express that those are the lease of their concerns. Their greatest fear is being forgotten. Without an increase in pressure from the international community, the prisoners could remain behind bars indefinitely.

“We want to go back to our country and worship freely. Why don’t they release us?” a prisoner recently told ICC.

Saudi Arabia’s imprisonment and mistreatment of the Ethiopian Christians contradicts its initiative to encourage religious tolerance around the world. In July of 2008, Saudi Arabia led an interfaith dialogue in Spain to promote tolerance and understanding among followers of different religions. Then Saudi Arabia established a Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue located in Vienna, Austria in October 2011. Yet, within Saudi borders, religious tolerance does not exist.

International Christian Concern (ICC) was the first organization to report the arrests and is working tirelessly to defend the prisoners’ freedoms. In February and March, ICC held two demonstrations outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C. calling for the Ethiopian Christians’ immediate and unconditional release. However, human rights organizations are concerned that the Saudi government will continue to turn a deaf ear to their demands unless additional pressure is applied by the international community. Groups such as ICC have continued asking their supporters around the world to call Saudi Arabian embassies and ask for the release of the prisoners.