Saudi Authorities Charge 13 Expatriates with Proselytizing

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have charged 12 expatriates from the Philippines and one from France with proselytizing, according to an official at the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.

Ezzedin H. Tago, the embassy's recently designated diplomatic representative, told the English-language Arab News that 12 of the expatriates had been temporarily released through petitions filed by their employers and the 13th was released on bail.

"It (their release) did not mean that their case had been settled," Tago clarified in a report Wednesday.

"If they are proven guilty as charged, they would go back to jail," he added, though proselytizing in Saudi Arabia is punishable by death.

According to reports, the 13 were arrested during a raid of a public mass that was attended last Friday by around 150 expatriates.

In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is strictly prohibited. Non-Muslims are only allowed to gather in homes for private religious services though the country's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) has been known to conduct raids on private non-Muslim religious gatherings as well.

According to initial reports, around 100 or so were altogether detained last week, but later reports revealed that only the 13 were arrested as there was not enough room at the police station and as the 13 were allegedly the organizers and leaders of the group.

In Saudi Arabia, conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) and proselytizing by non-Muslims are punishable by death under the Islamic laws adopted by the country.

Under the government's official interpretation of Islam, there is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom. In fact, overall government policies have been known place severe restrictions on religious freedom, according to the U.S. State Department.

The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, which announced Tuesday that it was assisting the 12 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were arrested, said it is closely monitoring the case and has made representations to the police.

No information has yet been released regarding the French priest who had been detained along with the 12.

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