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Freedom House Condemns Saudi Persecution Of Reformist Muslims

Center for Religious Freedom

As the G-8 Summit gets underway at Sea Island, Ga., representatives of the world’s most powerful nations are being asked to use their influence with Saudi Arabia to free individuals detained there for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.

An urgent appeal to G-8 nations has been issued by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom on behalf of a Catholic citizen of India, Brian Savio O’Connor, who has been imprisoned for the past six months by the Saudi religious police. During this time, he reportedly has been whipped and tortured with electric wires and threatened with death to force him to convert to Islam. His brothers, Raymond and James, confirmed to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that Brian has been “tortured with the intention of obliging him to abjure his faith.” He is now being held in the Olaya prison in Riyadh. According to L’Osservatore Romano, the Saudi religious police or Mutawa have accused O’Connor of drug peddling and preaching Christianity – both accusations carry the risk of the death penalty. The prisoner’s brothers call the drug charges mere fabrications, but do not deny that Brian is a Christian believer. The Indian Bishops Conference sent an official letter to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in New Delhi urging the release of O’Connor, but received no reply.

In addition, the Center for Religious Freedom has learned from the Washington-based Saudi Institute of the arrest on March 15 of 11 Saudi citizens, all Muslims, who were active as voices for tolerance and human rights. Four of them were released two days later, but seven others remain in the General Intelligence prison in Riyadh. They are: Abdulla Al-Hamad, a professor at Imam Mohamed bin Al-Saud University, arrested at his office at the university; Mohammed Said Al-Taib, a human rights activist, arrested at his home in Jeddah; Towfiq Al-Qaseer, a university professor, arrested at his house in Riyadh; Najeeb Al-Khanizee, a writer and political activist, arrested in Al-Kateef; and Abdul-Rahman Alahim, a lawyer and human rights activist who was arrested on March 17 after appearing the day before on Al-Jazeera satellite television, calling upon the government to release all political detainees and take steps towards democracy and political reform in the kingdom. Two other detainees are Ali Al-Deminy, a writer and political activist, and Shaikh Sulaiman Al-Rashoud, a cleric and human rights advocate.

According to information received from the Saudi Institute, these activists were reportedly arrested for criticizing the lack of independence of the Saudi National Commission on Human Rights, for submitting an application shortly before their arrest to form an independent human rights organization, and for actively participating over the last two years in peaceful activities calling upon the government to take steps towards political reform, democracy, and respect for human rights. They also had submitted a statement advocating a “Constitutional Kingdom” to Crown Prince Abdullah. The Saudi Interior Ministry has agreed to release the detainees only on the condition that they sign a pledge to cease their campaign to reform the political and human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Center Director Nina Shea declared, “The oil riches of the Saudi kingdom must not blind us to its continuing abuses of religious and other human rights. The voices of moderate Muslims, such as those now being detained, need to be especially welcomed in the world today. Nor is there any justification for holding and torturing a peaceful Christian like Brian O’Connor. Pressuring him to convert to Islam and punishing him for his Christian beliefs would be an egregious violation of international rights to religious freedom. We are calling upon the G-8 nations to issue an immediate appeal to the Saudi government for the release of Mr. O’Connor and of the seven Saudi human rights detainees.”

UPDATE: The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is reporting that all but two of the Muslim reformers listed have been released. Reportedly, authorities released these individuals after forcing them to sign a pledge in which they agree to end their participation in any political or human rights activities and to stop calling for reforms. Mr. Abdulla Al-Hamad and Mr. Ali Al-Deminy remain in incommunicado detention because of their refusal to sign the pledge. No charges have been filed against them and their request to have access to a lawyer has been denied.

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