Four Filipino Christians arrested three weeks ago by Saudi religious police remain jailed and under interrogation in the capital Riyadh, a Filipino diplomat confirmed yesterday.However, the three wives and five children arrested with them for conducting Christian worship in a private home have all been released during the past week.

According to a Filipino diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday with the Associated Press in Dubai, a total of 16 Christians were arrested in the police raid of what he termed a "Bible study session" on January 7. Previous reports from friends of the arrested Christians in Riyadh had listed only 15 names, including the five small children of two families.

The four Christians still under police investigation were identified by sources in Riyadh as Vic Mira Velez, Rupino Sulit, Eminesio Rabea, and Art Abreu. Abreu was hosting the Friday night Christian meeting in his home, attended that week by some 100 Filipinos.

One Christian expatriate in Riyadh confirmed to Compass that at least four adults among the detained Christians had been released on January 19, followed by the release of the women and children on January 23 and 24.

On January 24, an official at the Philippines Embassy in Riyadh told Compass, "Most of the detained have apparently already been released, but we are still in the process of confirming this." An embassy representative could not be reached for comment before the Saudi weekend began at noon today.

From Riyadh, expatriate Christians said it was believed that the ongoing Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI) investigation of the four men was aimed at extricating details about the network of secret meetings for Christian worship in Riyadh and throughout the country. Friends of the apprehended Christians had expressed fears earlier that MOI interrogators were using the little children as hostages, to pressure their parents to reveal the location of home-meeting sites and the names of church leaders.

"The search is at its height and the authorities are apprehending whom they want," one Riyadh source commented on Monday, after most of the original detainees had been released.

Saudi law does not allow non-Muslims to meet for public worship within the country, although government officials have made verbal claims since 1997 that Christians are allowed to worship in the privacy of their homes.

One of the Christians who contacted the Philippines Embassy after his release described their treatment under detention as fair, their accommodations "much like that of a hotel," and the questioning process as "courteous," an embassy official said.

However, one Riyadh source noted earlier this week that there had been "no news from those who were released; nobody at home, nor in their offices." Those still under detention have been placed in solitary confinement and are not allowed visitors.

From Manila, the university-age son of Abreu confirmed that he had spoken with his mother yesterday at the hospital where she works. "She was really crying a lot, so she couldn't say much," said Arvin Abreu. "Please just pray for the immediate release of my dad, and that God will comfort all my family there."

There was no indication from MOI authorities as to when they would complete their questioning of the four Christians still under arrest and release them from custody.

Under the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic law, Saudi authorities have ruled that foreigners arrested for alleged Christian activities must be fired from their local jobs and deported back to their home countries.

"Apart from a miracle," one Riyadh observer told Compass, "they will all lose their jobs and be sent home in a few weeks."Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

See our past coverage of this story, " Riyadh Police Raid Christian Worship Service | Ten adults, five children arrested; engineer still detained from previous arrest."The U.S. State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom includes a lengthy section on Saudi Arabia's religious freedom.