by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, February 15 (Compass) -- Saudi Arabia released four Filipino Christians in Riyadh yesterday, 40 days after their arrest by the country's strict Islamic police for conducting Christian worship services in a private home.
Art Abreu, Eminesio Rabea, Vic Mira Velez and Rupino Sulit were all discharged early yesterday afternoon from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) detention center where they have been held since January 7.
But according to a representative of the Philippines Embassy in Riyadh, one other Filipino Christian detained in the incident still remains under guard at the MOI center. Although ordered released more than three weeks ago, the prisoner is still waiting for the guarantee documents required from his employer.
Sources in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila identified the one remaining Christian under arrest as Diosdado Cadoy, an employee of the Ministry of Municipalities in Riyadh. "The embassy is actively monitoring his situation," a spokesperson for the Riyadh embassy told Compass today, "and we expect his release soon."
On January 7, a total of 15 Christians, including three women and five young children, were arrested in a raid conducted by Riyadh's "muttawa" (religious police) at the Abreu home, where some 100 Filipinos were worshipping together.
Eleven of the detained Christians were cleared for release within two weeks, allowing all but Cadoy to return to their homes. But MOI authorities kept the four alleged leaders of the group incommunicado until yesterday, even refusing diplomatic access to their embassy representatives.
Manila sources said Velez and Sulit were already slated for deportation back to the Philippines next Sunday, February 20. Meanwhile, Compass confirmed directly from Riyadh that some of the other Christians detained on January 7 flew back to Manila today, beginning the expulsion of all 15.
After his release, Abreu told relatives in Manila that he had requested a delay in his family's deportation until the children's school term concludes. Today the Abreu family was given a deadline of March 26 to leave the country.
Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law does not permit non-Muslim worship within the country's borders, even by foreign nationals.
Although senior government officials have pledged verbally since 1997 that expatriate Christians will be allowed to worship in the privacy of their homes, at least 31 known arrests have been made for alleged illegal Christian activities during the past 12 months.
Saudi authorities jailed three expatriate Christians in separate incidents during 1999 on the basis of "evidence" of their involvement in illegal Christian activities. The arrests were ordered after officials discovered a snapshot of one presumably "preaching" behind a pulpit, a personal Bible in the possession of another, and the name of a third listed on a computer disk confiscated in a church raid in another city.
Jailed and their heads shaven, the three Christians were all held without consular access throughout their detention. The arrests, which occurred in May, July and December in Riyadh and Dammam, ranged from six weeks to four months. All were subsequently fired from their jobs and deported back to their home country without any formal court hearings.
In a major crackdown last October, the Saudi muttawa raided two foreign Christian fellowships in Riyadh, requiring all 267 attenders to surrender their passport details. Forty members of the congregation were detained initially, with 13 of the suspected leaders kept under arrest for three weeks before being released for deportation by their employers.
Copyright Â© 2000 Compass Direct News Service.
Used with permission.