Archbishop Pleas on Behalf of 40 Pakistani Christians

Arrested in Saudi Arabia During Mass

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FAISALABAD, Pakistan, MAY 18, 2005 ( The Catholic Church and human rights groups are asking Pakistan’s government to intervene on behalf of 40 Pakistani Christians, arrested by Saudi Arabia’s religious police.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, called on the authorities to act «immediately» in order to get the release of those detained in Riyadh by the muttawa, reported AsiaNews.

«The government must treat this case without any religious discrimination and act on behalf of its citizens who are living abroad,» said the archbishop.

The 40 Pakistani Christians were arrested April 23 as they celebrated Mass in a private residence in the city of Riyadh.

Policemen who raided the premises, where the Eucharist was being celebrated, found Christian books and audiovisual material.

In Saudi Arabia it is illegal to practice any religion other than Islam.

It is not yet clear what might happen to those arrested, as the Saudi authorities have not yet made any public comment about the incident.

Pakistani authorities have also been silent; there has been no word of condemnation for the action or any expression of solidarity towards the victims.

Archbishop Saldanha, who chairs the National Commission for Justice and Peace, called the arrest «a serious example of religious discrimination and human rights violation,» and urged the Saudi government to «respect religious freedom.»

Numerous Pakistani and international human rights groups have appealed to the Pakistani government to ensure the liberation of the 40 Pakistani Christians. In particular, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan sent a letter to the Pakistani foreign minister.

«Given your proven commitment to upholding human rights, we urge you to take up the matter with Saudi authorities and seek the immediate release of these unfortunate persons and provide them the assistance and support they urgently require,» said the letter signed by the commission’s secretary-general Syed Iqbal Haider.

According to Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleton, Christians from less powerful countries face greater persecution.

«They could face a long period in prison,» he said. «We’ve seen people from less powerful countries held for long periods of time, and in one case sentenced to death,» added the spokesman.

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