7 Christians Released in Saudi Arabia

On Condition They Renounce Private Religious Practice

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, JUNE 9, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Seven Christians, arrested for their faith, were released on condition that they renounce religious practice, which they carried out privately in their homes.

Of the seven released Wednesday, six were part of a group of Protestants who were arrested May 28 in a raid by the muttawa, or religious police, in Riyadh.

The seventh Christian released is Indian evangelical Samkutty Varghese, who was jailed last March. Police used his address book to track down the other Christians.

Two other Christians are still being held for «further investigation,» authorities said.

According to AsiaNews sources close to Indian citizen Vijay Kumar, 45, of Tamil Nadu, one of the freed prisoners, their release took place after having signed a document in which they renounced the prayer sessions and religious practices they had been carrying in their homes. In Saudi Arabia, only Islam is allowed public expression.

Up to a few years ago, «a Christian was not even allowed to pray in private,» said Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of AsiaNews.

He added that now, because of international pressure, the Saudi royal family is allowing non-Muslims to practice their religion in the privacy of their home.

«Unfortunately, however,» the priest explained, «the police and a considerable part of Saudi society do not accept this liberalization, so Christians are arrested.»

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