A Filipino Christian employed for 14 years as an engineer in Saudi Arabia has been detained by police authorities since December 1 for suspected Christian activities.

Edmar Romero, 40, was arrested about 9:30 at night by plainclothes police who came to his home in Dammam, on the coast of Saudi Arabia's Eastern province.

When Romero returned home from his engineering consulting firm in Al-Khobar on the evening of December 1, he found several men waiting for him downstairs in his apartment building. The police escorted Romero up to his third-floor flat, which they then entered. They closed and locked the door, and proceeded to search the entire premises.

"I don't know just what all they took," said his wife Arsenia, who is a high school teacher, "but some of my lesson plans and even grade sheets for my students are missing." She confirmed that her husband's personal Bible and a set of Christian leadership training materials he was studying had been confiscated.

When the officers insisted Romero leave with them for further questioning, but refused to explain why, the engineer telephoned his employer. The Saudi owner was reportedly told by the officials that they had been sent by the Ministry of Interior and needed to question Romero about the items they had confiscated in his home.

"No reason was given," Mrs. Romero said. His company, however, has since concluded that his arrest was "all about religious matters." An English-language Bible was reportedly found after a police search of Romero's locker at his office, where he has been employed for the past four years.

A week after the arrest, Romero's wife was allowed to meet with her husband briefly. She said she asked everyone repeatedly why her husband had been detained and what evidence had been found against him.

"I was only told that it was for 'a very small thing,' but when I asked what that was, they said, 'We can't tell you. Your husband knows'."

When his wife saw him on December 8, Romero told her that he had been informed that his investigation was finished, and that he expected to be released very soon.

According to sources in the Philippines, Romero was put under investigation because his name was found on a computer disk confiscated two months earlier in a raid of two private Christian worship services in Riyadh by the muttawa, Saudi's religious police. The authorities had questioned all 267 worshippers during the October 8 raid, arresting 13 men identified as their leaders and eventually ordering their employers to fire and deport them.

Mrs. Romero told relatives in the Philippines' Mindoro island that her older children were in a "traumatic condition" over the arrest of their father. "They won't eat or go to school, they're so upset," she said. "And now that we're on winter break, they are praying for their Daddy to come home for Christmas." The Romeros have five children from age 14 down to a three-months-old baby.

The engineer's wife has asked Saudi authorities to release her husband for the children's sake. Despite daily inquiries by his employer, however, there has been no known update on Romero's situation for the past two weeks.

The Philippines Embassy, which has been monitoring the case from the capital in Riyadh, confirmed to Compass that an embassy official visiting the Eastern province today will attempt to meet with Romero and discuss his case with local officials.

Saudi Arabia practices a strict interpretation of Islamic law, under which non-Muslim worship is forbidden within the country. An estimated six million expatriates live and work in Saudi Arabia.

Leading members of Saudi's royal family insist that the government does not interfere in the private practice of other religions unless foreigners attempt to proselytize Saudi citizens, who are required by law to be Muslims. During 1999, at least 15 expatriate Christians have been arrested and deported from Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement in religious activities.

Related Elsewhere

See our earlier coverage of Filipino Christians in Saudi Arabia, "Filipino Christians Released By Saudi Authorities | Local Employees Ordered to Fire and Deport Imprisoned Worshipers" (Nov. 3, 1999) and "Two Filipino Christians Beheaded" (Sept. 1, 1997)

The U.S. State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom includes a lengthy section on Saudi Arabia's religious freedom.