Two Filipino Catholics involved in Bible studies and Christian prayers in a Saudi prison have been beheaded by sword.

Ruel Janda and Arnel Beltran were convicted and executed May 4 in Riyadh for "forced armed robbery" by order of the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia. The two had been accused of striking a Riyadh shop employee on the head with an iron bar.

Saudi Arabia strictly enforces Islamic law by publicly executing convicted armed robbers, murderers, drug smugglers, and rapists.

However, Donato Lama, a former cellmate of the executed men, says they had been incarcerated on "false and fabricated" charges. Lama, confined in Al-Malaz Prison with Janda and Beltran until his release March 28, believes they were executed because of an active Christian witness. But Saudi authorities reject Lama's allegations.

"There had been an argument at the store where they worked," Lama said, "and a fight broke out between them and some Pakistani and Egyptian nationals. Afterwards, they took revenge against Ruel and Arnel by accusing them of stealing from the store."

The two executed men had been in prison since April 7, 1995. Muslim Filipino cellmates reported them to guards for conducting Bible studies and praying with other prisoners.

Filipino Christian Rene H. Camahort, who remains in the prison, wrote in a letter after the decapitations that Janda had not been deterred by Saudi laws forbidding Christian prayer.

"He was not intimidated, despite countless times that he was put in isolation cells," Camahort said of Janda.

Lama, who has returned to the Philippines after serving a 17-month term for "promoting Christianity," says Camahort "has become the spiritual leader of the Christian believers in the cell."

"I do not regret my imprisonment nor consider it as a misfortune, because I know why I am here," Camahort wrote. "I have a purpose, and I will serve [Christ] even if it means that I will never go out."

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