Saudis Slow to Liberalize, Says Missionary

Warns of Harsh Treatment of Non-Muslims

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ROME, DEC. 7, 2004 ( Saudi Arabia should extend the same rights to the non-Muslims living within its borders as those enjoyed by its own Muslims who go abroad, says a missionary-journalist.

Father Bernardo Cervellera is director of AsiaNews, an agency that, together with other Internet sites, supported the international campaign that led to the release of Brian Savio O’Connor, an Indian citizen who was accused, tortured and imprisoned in Riyadh for alleged «Christian evangelization.»

After his release, O’Connor warned that «in Saudi prisons there are still many other Brians waiting for help.»

Currently, about 8 million foreigners work in Saudi Arabia, where «public expression is allowed only to Islam, and Wahhabite Islam» at that, explained Father Cervellera, a member of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions.

«Until a few years ago a Christian was prohibited from praying even in private,» he told Vatican Radio. «Now, instead, because of international pressure, the Saudi princes have given Christians permission to pray at least in private, and to be able to meet.

«Sadly, however, the police and most of Saudi society do not accept this liberalization, so Christians are arrested.»

Father Cervellera continued: «Over the years, there have been very many cases of people who have been arrested, tortured and, under international pressure, released, or in any case, expelled.»

«It is not well-known what happens in Saudi prisons,» the missionary said. «Brian was tortured for hours, made to hang with his head down, and beaten. They say his head was used as a football.»

He stressed that one «must not be afraid to denounce this situation, because Arabia, which among other things is an oil country, a rich country, cannot treat foreigners this way, taking advantage of their work, without allowing them the freedom to profess their faith.»

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