Girmaye Ambaye Released After 20 Weeks
by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, August 11 (Compass) -- After 20 weeks in a Saudi jail for participating in prohibited Christian activities, Eritrean Christian Girmaye Ambaye was deported from Jeddah by plane back to his home country on Saturday, August 9.
A member of Ambaye’s congregation confirmed today that he was requested to bring a suitcase of the prisoner’s personal effects to the Jeddah airport on Saturday evening, where he handed it over to Ambaye before the Eritrean boarded his flight back to Asmara. “So it seems he was really going,” the source said.
According to one of his brothers who spoke to Compass today, Ambaye has remained in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, since his arrival on Saturday night. The brother said he did not know where Girmaye was staying, although it is assumed that he is being interviewed by Eritrean authorities regarding the details of his forced deportation by the Saudi government.
“He telephoned from Asmara to us, to tell us he has come from Saudi Arabia,” the brother confirmed from the family home in Mendefera, 25 miles south of Asmara. “But there is some problem at the airport, so he said he will come home to see us on Wednesday.”
Ambaye had been jailed in the Saudi port city of Jeddah since March 25, when local police put him under arrest for witnessing about his Christian faith to Muslim Arabs. He was incarcerated at the Bremen deportation center, where he was told he must leave the country because Saudi Arabia does not allow “Christian proselytizing.”
Ambaye’s deportation from Jeddah had first been said to be stalled over the sale and transfer of a car registered in his name. Later, he was informed of an alleged traffic fine that he had failed to pay.
Although Ambaye signed all the car transfer papers brought to him in early June and still more in the first week of July, in mid July the Eritrean Consulate told him that Saudi immigration computers showed an unpaid traffic fine against him of 950 Saudi rials, just under $300.
Eritrean Consulate sources claimed that Ambaye was resisting deportation, preferring to remain in the jail to share his faith with his mostly Muslim cellmates. Ambaye, however, told Compass on a mobile phone call into his prison cell on July 14 that this was not true. He did want to leave the jail and return home, he said, but he had no money to pay the fine.
Ambaye’s expatriate Christian friends in Jeddah reportedly collected money to pay the fine, clearing the jailed Christian for his release and return to Eritrea.
Last week, an Eritrean Consulate representative in Jeddah told Compass that a receipt arrived at the consulate on August 3 proving that Ambaye’s outstanding traffic fine had been paid and clearing him for departure on the next direct flight to Asmara on August 5.
But a consulate official who spoke with Compass on the morning of August 9 claimed to be unaware that the Eritrean Christian had not been deported as expected on the previous Tuesday. The consulate switchboard has deferred or hung up on all subsequent telephone calls from Compass to the officer monitoring the case.
Now 42, Ambaye became active in an Ethiopian-Eritrean Christian congregation in Jeddah five years ago, he told Compass. He had worked as a tailor in Saudi Arabia since 1987. During the past two years, a dozen other members of his congregation have been jailed and deported by Jeddah police authorities, who keep the church leaders under frequent surveillance.