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Saudis holding 7 Christians, sources in nation’s capital say

NEW YORK (BP)–The Saudi Arabian government is holding seven Christians in an unknown location, without access to diplomatic channels — and is believed to be torturing them for information about other believers in the country, according to sources close to the underground church in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
One reported captive is Yolai Aguilar from the Philippines, who is nine months pregnant. Her husband left just before a police raid. Sources believe she is being held to persuade him to return.
Police from the Ministry of the Interior arrested two Filipino men June 6, the day after they participated in a project to distribute 500 packets of Arabic-language biblical materials to homes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city. Planned for some time, the project was logistically choreographed to avoid confrontation. The team hung materials on doorknobs early in the morning and walked away.
On June 13, seven Muttawa police arrested a Dutchman, Wilm Den Hartog, and two more Filipinos. They left Den Hartog’s wife and three small children in their home, but she has since received harassing phone calls. The Muttawa are related to a branch of the government Ministry of Islamic Affairs and operate as part of the Islamic Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Two days later, Aguilar and another Filipino were arrested. Aguilar is believed to be in a hospital, but it appears she has been tortured to reveal other names, sources say.
Christian leaders inside Saudi Arabia say they fear for the lives of the captives and others whose names might be revealed. The more recent arrests have spread beyond the confines of the material-distribution project. The pattern of arrests indicates that intensifying torture of those being held is producing names of other believers, according to the sources.
Angelito Hizon, the second person arrested, is known to be tough, strong-willed and faithful. “‘Lito’ is a leather man. He doesn’t fold easily,” said a Christian professional who has lived in Riyadh and participated in a fellowship of believers there. “If you’re in street fight, you’d want him on your side.”
It took a week from the time Hizon was arrested until the next arrests, an indication that police are increasing the amount of pressure on him. Saudi interrogation sessions have historically included brutal beatings, verbal abuse, mental torture — and constant questions.
“Every (Christian) believer in Arabia is scared,” said Wally Magdangal, a Filipino pastor who was tortured and sentenced to die in 1992, then deported to his homeland.
The Dutch Embassy has been notified of Den Hartog’s arrest, but the Saudi Ministry of the Interior is requiring the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to write a formal letter to request that Dutch officials be permitted to see him, sources say. Christians fear this delay bodes ill for Den Hartog’s well-being.
Besides Aguilar and Hizon, Filipino captives include Juanito Manalili, Ariel Ordona, Ruben Aguire and Jun Luzon.
Saudi Arabia lives by Sharia law, its interpretation of teachings from two Islamic books, the Koran and the Hadith. Under Sharia, the Bible is forbidden and corrupted material. Muslims who convert to Christianity are sentenced to death. The penalty for evangelism by a non-Muslim is open to interpretation. Appeals from local courts can be made to a three-judge panel and then to the King.
Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations claim to abide by international standards for freedom of religion, but usually qualify that by saying anyone is free to practice his or her religion as long as they don’t attempt to proselytize. The concept that evangelism is part of the practice of the Christian religion is in itself an offense to Muslim Sharia. Underground fellowships of expatriates include no Saudi national believers.
Last September the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan Bin Abdullazziz, told Pope John Paul II that his “government does not stand against believers in God practicing their religious rituals in the privacy of their own home,” according to an English-language newspaper in neighboring Dubai.
During an interview about his meeting with the pope, Prince Sultan called Saudi Arabia a religiously “tolerant” country.