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Week-old child, her mom, others being held by Saudis

NEW YORK (BP)–An eight-pound, week-old baby girl could well be the youngest martyr for the Christian faith on record in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Elisha Aguilar is being held on a hospital compound in Riyadh, the Muslim kingdom’s capital city, while her mother is being repeatedly interrogated and threatened by authorities seeking to obtain information about the underground church there.
When Filipino Pino Aguilar decided with his wife, Yolai, to live for God by practicing his faith in Saudi Arabia, he couldn’t have known that would mean helplessly standing by thousands of miles away as Yolai gave birth to his daughter in the custody of Muslim police.
Pino is working with the Philippine Red Cross to negotiate for his wife’s release. Government Social Security Hospital, a quasi-government agency where she has been a data entry specialist for the past seven years — and where she and the baby are being held — also is working to get her out of the country.
If he could hold Elisha in his arms, “I’d say to her, ‘I love you. You are a gift from God. I want to dedicate you to God and his ministry,'” Aguilar said during an interview from his in-laws’ home in the Philippines June 23.
“Every moment of the day I’m praying,” Aguilar said. “I have confidence in the blood and suffering of Jesus. God did not leave us or forsake us.”
The couple met in Saudi Arabia while working for companies that employ internationals there. They married two years ago and decided to live there.
The Saudi government took Yolai June 15. Two days later, after hours of intense interrogation, she gave birth to Elisha, according to sources close to the underground church in Riyadh.
Information about the condition of mother and baby daughter is sketchy, although it is believed that police began interrogating her again after the birth, the sources say.
To his wife, “I’d say, ‘I love you. You are a gift from God. The suffering we’re experiencing now is a result of serving the Lord,” Aguilar said.
Religious police, called “muttawa,” raided the Aguilar home. The muttawa are related to the government Ministry of Islamic Affairs and operate as the Islamic Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. They enforce Islamic codes of behavior.
Yolai’s detainment came during a government sweep of Christian activity by the muttawa through which 10 Filipinos and a Dutchman have been taken away without charges. Another man is being interrogated extensively but has not been held overnight, according to sources.
In the case of each captive, no charges have been filed, and diplomatic access has been denied. Except for Yolai, their whereabouts are unknown — a fact that bodes ill for them, sources fear.
Christian leaders in Riyadh believe the pattern of muttawa actions indicates captives are being abused and tortured to give up information about Christian activity.
Pino had left the country June 9 when he received word that the muttawa might be coming after him. Yolai was unable to fly out of the country because she was so close to delivering their baby. She was not thought to be in danger, sources say.
The Saudi government does not officially allow any non-Muslim worship, but has turned a blind eye to fellowships of internationals working in the country and worshiping Jesus. In fact, in a September 1997 interview, government Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdullazziz called Saudi Arabia a religiously “tolerant” country.
He said he 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.
The string of arrests began June 6 with two men who participated early the day before in distributing packets of Arabic-language biblical materials to Riyadh homes, sources say.
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, corrupted material. Muslims who convert to Christianity are sentenced to death.
Although Saudi Arabia belongs to the United Nations, its official position is to disagree with international standards for human rights and live by strict Islamic law, denying any style of non-Muslim worship and reserving the right to torture or kill those who disobey, according to State Department documents on human rights.