Saudi Arabia's vigilante religious police raided a private Christian worship service in Riyadh on January 7, arresting 15 of the estimated 100 persons gathered in a private home, including the small children of two families.According to sources in the Saudi Arabian capital, the muttawa (Islamic police) interrupted the Friday afternoon service, which was being conducted by Filipino Christians in a private villa, on a tip from a Filipino Muslim who infiltrated the group.In Manila, church associates of the arrested Christians gave the following names of those under detention: Dick Mira Velez, Diosdado Cadoy, Jun and Evelyn Vinegas with two children, ages unknown; Art and Isabelita Sabalista with three children, ages 12, 9, and 3; Rubino Sulit, Jeorge and Elen Rivera, and Eminesio Rabea.The raid and arrest occurred on the first of five days of an official Muslim holiday celebrating the end of the Ramadan month of fasting.Although the Philippines Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Manila confirmed today it had been notified of the arrests, its Riyadh embassy was not expected to make official inquiries about the case until offices reopened on January 12, after the Ramadan holidays.

Christian Engineer Still Being Held

Meanwhile, Filipino Christian Edmar Romero remains under police arrest in Saudi Arabia's Eastern province today, six weeks after Dammam authorities detained him for alleged Christian activities.But his wife Arsenia, who was last allowed to visit him on January 5, said her husband had been told to expect his formal release paper to be issued "at the latest within three days" to mark the Muslim holidays ending the Ramadan month of fasting.Romero was picked up the night of December 1 by Saudi police, who searched his home and then detained him for questioning. Both his wife and employer have assumed that the police investigation centers on Romero's Christian faith, since his personal Bible and other Christian literature he was studying were confiscated from his home and office.Romero's wife and five children (ages 5 months to 14 years) were allowed a 20-minute visit with him on December 22 at the detention center where he is being held in Dammam. Last week local authorities again allowed him to see his family, this time for nearly half an hour."The children were so happy to see him, even though he's in this situation," said Mrs. Romero, who reported that her husband appeared thin and tired. "He's lost weight, and a lot of sleep, too," she said. He confirmed that he was being treated well, although he was expected to fast during the past month of Ramadan, when practicing Muslims do not eat or drink anything during daylight hours.When she protested that his head had been shaved, authorities stated it was standard procedure for anyone detained.According to the Philippines Embassy in Riyadh, delays in Romero's release could be attributed to Saudi's long government holidays marking the end of Ramadan. "They began in the last week of December and last until the 11th of January," Consul Jesus M. Domingo told Compass last week. "So we will only be able to start the process of inquiry and request for a jail visit on the 12th or 13th." Domingo said the embassy only learned of Romero's case after the last permitted visit approved by the Ministry of Interior authorities in December.Romero reportedly came under suspicion because his name was found on a computer disk confiscated last October during a police raid of two private Christian worship services in Riyadh. Although the Saudi government claims not to interfere in non-Muslim worship practices held by foreigners in private, the muttawa religious police frequently interrupt and halt such services, detaining and often deporting the suspected leaders.Under the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic law, non-Muslims among the six million expatriates working in Saudi Arabia may not practice their own religious faith.

Romero, 40, has been employed in Saudi Arabia for 14 years as an engineer. His wife and family joined him four years ago.Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

See our earlier coverage of this story, " Christian Engineer Arrested in Saudi Arabia | Charges Against Filipino Termed "Religious-Related."The U.S. State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom includes a lengthy section on Saudi Arabia's religious freedom.