Forty-two Ethiopian Christians were arrested in Saudi Arabia Thursday after security forces raided an evening prayer meeting at a house church, according to Christian watchdog organization the International Christian Concern (ICC).
The incident is only the latest in a reported series of raids on worship meetings in the country.
Saudi police and security officers launched the raid in the city of Jeddah in western Saudi Arabia, on the coast of the Red Sea. Those attending the service were reportedly beaten and threatened before being arrested, after security forces broke into the house and separated men from women, eyewitnesses told ICC.
The Christian minority in the country is being discriminated against, according to multiple reports, and can only meet for worship in house churches, experts say.
“Though not permitting a single church building where Christians can worship in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government goes even further to assault the religious freedoms of its citizens and foreign workers by hunting for and arresting Christians who attend services in the privacy of their own homes,” Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East, said in statement emailed to The Christian Post. “As a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, we urge Saudi Arabia to end the abuse that the Ethiopian Christians have reportedly suffered in prison and to ensure their immediate release.”
Saudi Arabian officials have arrested Christians in the past but it is unprecedented for them to arrest so many at a single time, a church leader in Jeddah, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, told ICC.
“We are particularly concerned about the children of the detained Christians,” he reportedly said.
Some Ethiopian Christian groups located in Saudi Arabia made it clear they will temporarily postpone services until things quiet down, ICC reported. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian and Eritrean Christian immigrant community living in Europe has reportedly written an appeal for help to the ambassadors of European embassies in Riyadh on Friday, complaining about the assault, ICC reported.
According to data provided by the CIA, Saudi Arabian society is 100 percent Muslim, with no religious diversity.
Christians in Saudi Arabia, most of whom enter the country as foreign workers, are not allowed to practice their faith openly. Saudi police have been known to raid private worship gatherings at homes, arrest and deport congregants, and confiscate Christian materials, including Bibles, ICC said.