A Christian guest worker from India, who was tortured and jailed for allegedly spreading Christianity in the strict Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was brought before an Islamic court in Riyadh on Sept. 15, six months after his arrest.
During his 90-minute hearing, Brian OConnor, whose sufferings have been widespread throughout the Christian media, was informed for the first time of the legal charges against him since his arrest on March 25, 2004.
According to Compass News, the formal charge sheet signed by the Muttawa (religious police) who first detained and tortured OConnor said that he was caught red-handed in possession of 12 bottles of alcohol at the time of his arrest.
In addition to that charge, the Muttawa claimed that they discovered money in his pockets from liquor that he had unknowingly sold to an undercover agent. OConnor was also accused of having pornographic movies in his possession.
Lastly, the Muttawa declared the Indian national was a preacher of Christianity and had Bibles in his possession.
No verdict was given at the court session, and it was not clear whether any attempt was made to produce evidence of the charges, but OConnor was told that he would be summoned to court again. No date was given for the second hearing, however.
The Washington, DC-based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) had released information shortly after his arrest in March, reporting that OConnor had been abducted, imprisoned, and tortured by the Muttawa.
According to ICC, OConnor had received visitors and had communicated that his legs were chained and he was hung upside down and the Muttawa came in turns of four and kicked [him] in the chest and rib area up until 2AM the next morning. OConnor had also told visitors that he was whipped on his back and the soles of his feet by electrical wires and was in much pain when he walked.
Prior to his arrest, OConnor was known to be an upstanding citizen in the community. Executives at the El Khereji Corporation, where OConnor worked as a cargo agent for Saudi Airlines, have declared that the liquor allegations against their employee are a cover-up for the real reason for his arrest.
OConnor has acknowledged that he led Bible studies for expatriate Christians in his home, specifying that he only did so after the local press reported that Saudi authorities had publicly declared that non-Muslims living in the kingdom were permitted to practice their religious beliefs in private.
According to one colleague who visited OConnor recently, the Indian Christians hair and beard have grayed considerably during his incarceration, making him look a bit older than his 36 years. During his months in prison, OConnors elderly father and an elder sister have both passed away back in his native state of Karnataka, India.
Under Saudi Arabias practice of Islamic law, standard punishments carried out on expatriates for possessing or selling alcohol include jail terms, whiplashes and deportation.
Coincidentally, OConnors hearing occurred just hours before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell named Saudi Arabia as one of eight countries of particular concern for its gross infringements of religious freedom.
The U.S. State Departments annual religious freedom report on Saudi Arabia noted that non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture.