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Group: Saudis conduct worst crackdown on Christians in decade

WASHINGTON (BP)–Saudi Arabian police have made a wave of arrests of Christians since May 27, constituting the “largest crackdown” on followers of Christ in the Muslim-dominated country in the last decade, according to a Washington-based human rights organization.

International Christian Concern reported it had learned of 46 confirmed arrests in the Middle Eastern country through June 1. The arrests included eight Indian nationals who were taken into custody May 28, according to ICC. It also has confirmed reports of police ransacking the houses of Christians and destroying Bibles, ICC reported.

Regular Saudi police and Muttawa religious police have carried out these actions, according to the ICC.

Baptist Press requested comment June 3 from the information office of the Saudi embassy in Washington, but none was provided prior to the deadline for this article.

Saudi Arabia is listed by the U.S. State Department as one of the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom. Last year, the State Department placed Saudi Arabia on its list of “countries of particular concern” for the first time. The CPC designation is reserved for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated systemic and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The ICC and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have both criticized the Bush administration for failing to take action as a follow-up to the designation of Saudi Arabia as a CPC. The president is required to take specific actions -– from diplomacy to economic sanctions — against governments designated as CPCs.

“The inaction of the world’s leader in promoting freedom is reprehensible and risks breaching the line of irrelevance on matters of religious freedom and human rights,” the ICC said in a written release. “This latest crackdown on Christians is inexcusable and highlights the oppressive regime under which all religious minorities live and work in Saudi Arabia.”

For years, the State Department has said religious freedom “does not exist” in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government prohibits all forms of public religious expression except Wahhabism, an extreme interpretation of Islam, and it finances activities overseas that express hatred and, in some cases, violence toward non-Muslims and out-of-favor Muslims, according to the USCIRF.

Saudi police confiscate hundreds of Bibles yearly at border crossings and in raids on Christians, then burn or desecrate them, the Saudi Institute reported May 20.

The latest actions by Saudi police came after the United States was accused of desecrating the Koran, Islam’s holy book, at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. Newsweek magazine published an article in its May 9 issue reporting a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay center. Ensuing riots in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan resulted in at least 17 deaths. The U.S. military denied the report, and Newsweek later retracted its article.

ICC provides aid to persecuted Christians overseas, trains pastors under repressive regimes and does advocacy work with the federal government. The USCIRF is a bipartisan, nine-member panel that makes policy recommendations on international religious liberty issues to Congress and the executive branch. The Saudi Institute identifies itself as an independent, Washington-based organization that provides information on Saudi Arabia.

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