Report: Religious Freedom Nonexistent in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was again designated as a ‘‘country of particular concern’’ for its ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its recently released Annual Report 2006.

The document, released on Wednesday, reported that the government of Saudi Arabia continues to enforce vigorously its ban on all forms of public religious expression other than the government’s interpretation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam.

According to the report, the Saudi government continues to punish and abuse non-Muslim foreigners for private religious practice in Saudi Arabia. In September 2004, seven Filipino Christian leaders were arrested and detained when the mutawaa (religious police) raided a religious service. Although the Christian leaders were released within one month, the mutawaa reportedly pressured their employers to deport them, resulting in six deportations by late 2005.

Although the government claims that it permits non-Muslims to worship in private, the guidelines to what qualifies as “private” is vague. The mutawaa and Saudi security services or private non-Muslim religious activity continues with many people worshipping privately continue to be harassed, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, deported and generally forced to go to “great length” to conceal religious activity from the authorities.

In April 2005, the mutawaa raided a Filipino Christian private service in Riyadh and confiscated religious materials such as Bibles and Christian symbols. Also in April 2005, at least 40 Pakistani, three Ethiopian, and two Eritrean Christians were arrested in Riyadh during a raid on separate private religious services. The Pakistani Christians were released within days and all the African Christians were released after a month in detention.

One month later, in May 2005, at least eight Indian Protestant leaders were arrested, interrogated, and then released for reportedly being on a list, obtained by the mutawaa, of Christian leaders in the country.

Moreover, throughout the spring of 2005, dozens of Christian guest workers were detained, some for several days and others for several months, for holding religious worship services in private homes.

Non-government organizations outside of Saudi Arabia continue to report that a number of school textbooks contain highly intolerant and discriminatory language, particularly against Jews, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims.

Furthermore, in the past year, there were frequent reports of “virulently” anti-Semitic and anti-Christian sentiments expressed in the official media and in sermons delivered by clerics who are under the authority of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. In some cases, the State Department reported, clerics prayed for the death of Jews and Christians.

Saudi Arabia was first designated as a “country of particular concern” in September 2004 by the State Department. Other countries recommended for the CPC list for 2006 are: Burma, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, People’s Republic of China, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.