A Leader in Religious Intolerance

By Jerry Dykstra, Copyright Christianity Today International

Saudi Arabia strictly forbids the practice of any religion other than Islam within its borders. Those who fail to comply could face arrest, torture or even death. Brian O'Connor, a Christian and a native of India, experienced that persecution first hand.

O'Connor was charged with "spreading Christianity" in Saudi Arabia in 2004. The "muttawa"—Saudi religious police—originally arrested O'Connor on the false allegation of selling liquor and possessing pornographic videos. The muttawa have the authority to detain persons for violation of strict Islamic standards regarding proper dress and behavior.

During his interrogation, he was brutally beaten, then sentenced to 10 months imprisonment and 300 lashes. While in prison he was pressured to convert to Islam. According to Compass Direct, after serving seven months in prison, he was deported to India.

Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most religiously intolerant nations in the world, ranking No. 2 on Open Doors' 2006 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. Last fall the U.S. Department of State re-designated Saudi Arabia—along with seven other countries—as "Countries of Particular Concern" for severe violations of religious freedom.

Although the Saudi Arabian government claims to exercise "practical tolerance" toward the thousands of non-Muslims working in the country who worship privately in their homes—like O'Connor—even "house church" Christians are rounded up and tried without defense counsel. In 2005, in what was called Saudi Arabia's largest crackdown on Christians in a decade, 70 expatriate Christians were arrested during worship in private homes. Most of the arrested Christians were released over a period of time.

Apostasy—conversion to a non-Muslim religion—is punishable by death. No missionaries are allowed into the country, and custom officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, including Christian materials.

After his release, O'Connor said that through his witness 21 of his cellmates came to Christ. "I was there for a purpose," he stated.

Pray for:That imprisoned Christians will be released and there will be justice for members of all religious faiths. Freedom for Christians to worship openly. Safety for Christians who worship in house churches.Persecution Report is presented in cooperation with Open Doors USA, which serves the Persecuted Church through training, Bible distribution, and community development. For more information, call 1-888-5-BIBLE-5 or visit www.odusa.org.Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
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