Freedom House urges G-8 to appeal for release of Christian and Muslim prisoners in Saudi Arabia
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.- The Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom is calling upon the G-8 nations to issue an immediate appeal to Saudi Arabia for the release of one Christian and seven Muslim Saudi human rights activists, who have been detained for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. In a press release June 7, Freedom House stated that it issued the appeal on behalf of Indian citizen Brian Savio O’Connor, who has been imprisoned for the past six months by the Saudi religious police.

During this time, the Catholic Indian reportedly has been whipped and tortured with electric wires and threatened with death to force him to convert to Islam.

His brothers, Raymond and James, confirmed to L’Osservatore Romano that Brian has been “tortured with the intention of obliging him to abjure his faith.” He is now being held in the Olaya prison in Riyadh.

According to L’Osservatore Romano, the Saudi religious police have accused O’Connor of drug peddling and preaching Christianity – both accusations carry the risk of the death penalty.

The prisoner’s brothers call the drug charges mere fabrications, but do not deny that Brian is a Christian. The Indian Bishops Conference sent an official letter to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in New Delhi, urging the release of O’Connor, but received no reply.

Saudi human rights activists detained

In addition, the Washington-based Saudi Institute informed Freedom House of the arrest March 15 of 11 human rights activists. Four of them were released two days later, but seven others remain in the General Intelligence prison in Riyadh.

According to the Saudi Institute, these activists were arrested for criticizing the lack of independence of the Saudi National Commission on Human Rights, for submitting an application to form an independent human rights organization, and for actively participating over the last two years in peaceful activities, calling upon the government to take steps towards political reform, democracy, and respect for human rights.

They also had submitted a statement advocating a “Constitutional Kingdom” to Crown Prince Abdullah. The Saudi Interior Ministry has agreed to release the detainees only on the condition that they sign a pledge to cease their campaign to reform the political and human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

“The oil riches of the Saudi kingdom must not blind us to its continuing abuses of religious and other human rights,” said Freedom House director Nina Shea. “The voices of moderate Muslims, such as those now being detained, need to be especially welcomed in the world today.

“Nor is there any justification for holding and torturing a peaceful Christian like Brian O’Connor. Pressuring him to convert to Islam and punishing him for his Christian beliefs would be an egregious violation of international rights to religious freedom,” she said.

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