Saudi Arabian authorities on January 28 lashed three Ethiopian Christians 80 times each with a flexible metal cable in front of more than 1,000 detainees. The three Christians (whom authorities were about to deport because of their faith) smuggled a letter out of the Bremen Deportation Prison in Jeddah to describe their treatment. Officials beat and kicked them before suspending them with chains and flogging them, and Saudi authorities denied them medical care for back wounds.

"Our bodies are wounded, swollen, terribly bruised, and with great pain," Baharu Mengistu, Tinsaie Gizachew, and Gebeyehu Tefera wrote to Washington, D.C.-based International Christian Concern and other agencies.

"Baharu's kidney may have been damaged, and he is passing blood with his urine," they wrote. "When we reported to the prison hospital for treatment, we were slapped and told to come back after we were dead. It seems as if we were brought [here] to be tortured and tormented to death."

Mengistu received limited medical care two days later. Authorities deported him on February 2, according to Middle East Concern (MEC) of Loughborough, United Kingdom.

Saudi officials arrested the three Ethiopians and 11 other foreign workers last summer. At press time most of them had been deported. Authorities never formally charged them with wrongdoing.

Ministry of Interior officials began rounding up the 14 house-church leaders after a citizen complained about foreign Christians renting a public hall for a farewell party on June 2.

Saudi Arabia prohibits public worship by members of faiths other than Sunni Islam. The regime allows the country's 7 million foreign workers, about one-third of the population, to worship in private. Muslims who convert to another religion can be punished by death. Of the country's 807,000 Christians, all but a smattering are foreigners.

"Freedom of religion does not exist" in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. State Department notes in its 2001 report on religious freedom. Even so, as a U.S. ally in the region, Saudi Arabia has been sensitive to U.S. pressure and has improved its treatment of Christians in the past few years, according to MEC Director Daniel Hoffman.

"This improvement is due mainly to the fact that the Saudi authorities 'burned their fingers' each time they acted against Christians—they were put under a lot of pressure," Hoffman says. "Now they often feel it is not worth the hassle."

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Related Elsewhere

You can also contact your representative or senator online, as well as the White House.

The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report and Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for Saudi Arabia are available online.

Persecution watchdog groups such as International Christian Concern have regularly updated reports on Saudi Arabia.

Christianity Today's "Bearing the Cross" articles by Jeff M. Sellers have focused on persecution in countries including Laos, China, Indonesia, Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan.

Christianity Today's persecution archive has more articles on religious discrimination and violence from around the world. The World Report section allows readers to search for past articles by country (see articles on Saudi Arabia).

Last week Sellers covered a summit of a core group of political and Christian leaders who issued a "Statement of Conscience" on religious persecution.

For more articles, see Yahoo's full coverage on Saudi Arabia.

Previous Christianity Today articles on religious persecution in Saudi Arabia include:

U.S. Ally Jails House-Church LeadersMore than a dozen Christians imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since last summer. (November 11, 2001)
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Naming NamesWere the State Department's actions on international religious freedom compromised by the war on terrorism? (Nov. 7, 2001)
What Does 09.11.01 Mean for Religious Persecution Policy?Persecution watchdogs fear religious freedom will suffer. (Oct. 10, 2001)
Two Christian Leaders Arrested by Saudi Arabian AuthoritiesJeddah campaign strikes to eliminate house churches. (July 30, 2001)
Four Christians Released By Saudi AuthoritiesOne detained Filipino still waiting for employer's guarantee. (March 6, 2000)
Saudi Arabia Keeps Four Christians Under ArrestWives and children released after two weeks (Jan. 31, 2000)
Riyadh Police Raid Christian Worship ServiceTen adults, five children arrested; engineer still detained from previous arrest. (Jan. 10, 2000)
Christian Engineer Arrested in Saudi ArabiaCharges Against Filipino Termed "Religious-Related." (Dec. 27, 1999)
Arrested Christians Face DeportationPopular Christians meetings lead to house-church raids. (Dec. 6, 1999)
Filipino Christians Released By Saudi AuthoritiesLocal Employees Ordered to Fire and Deport Imprisoned Worshipers" (Nov. 3, 1999)
Two Filipino Christians Beheaded (Sept. 1, 1997)

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