Saudi Arabia sentences men to prison, lashings for role in woman's conversion to Christianity

Published 15 May 2013  |  
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that two men accused of helping a young woman flee Saudi Arabia after her conversion to Christianity were sentenced to prison terms and lashes with a whip by a Saudi court on Sunday. The case comes weeks after an independent U.S. government advisory body listed Saudi Arabia among the top violators of religious freedom.

A Lebanese Christian man was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes and a Saudi man was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes by a court in Khobar, a city in eastern Saudi Arabia, for their involvement in a Saudi woman's conversion to Christianity and her escape abroad, Reuters reported. The men, who worked with the young woman known as Maryam at an insurance company, were arrested last July after a complaint was filed by her father. Maryam fled to Sweden several months ago and is reportedly applying for asylum.

The case began when Maryam appeared on a YouTube video last July announcing her conversion to Christianity, which "created a stir in the Kingdom," the Saudi Gazette reported. Maryam said she was "raised to hate Judaism and Christianity but fell in love with the religions after she found peace in Christianity," the English-language daily reported in July. Maryam embraced Christianity after hearing God tell her in a dream that Jesus is His son, according to the Gazette.

Abandoning Islam, also known as apostasy, and proselytizing are illegal under Saudi law. Judges have authority to determine the offender's punishment in accordance to their interpretation of the Kingdom's Sharia code of Islamic law, which permits the death penalty for apostates. Hmood al-Khalidi, the lawyer representing Maryam's family, expressed satisfaction with the men's severe verdict.

The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently designated Saudi Arabia a "country of particular concern" for the Kingdom's egregious violations of religious freedom. "Since 2004, the United States has designated Saudi Arabia a severe violator of religious freedom, yet the U.S. government has waived any punitive action that such a designation mandates," Dwight Bashir, Deputy Director for Policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told Fox News. "Until the U.S. government lifts this waiver and prioritizes religious freedom in its relationship, you can expect limitations and abuses to continue."

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "Religious freedom is nonexistent in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and conversion to Christianity is deemed an unforgivable offense that warrants the death sentence. If not for the protection of local NGOs and Swedish officials, who have refused to return Maryam to Saudi Arabia, a terrifying punishment and possible execution would be imminent. Last year, more than 40 Ethiopian Christians were tortured and held for months in a Saudi prison after being arrested at a prayer gathering in Jeddah. Despite these flagrant violations of an individual's right to choose their own faith and worship according to their convictions, the U.S. government has repeatedly failed to make religious freedom a priority in its relationship with Saudi Arabia. ICC urges the U.S. government to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its religious freedom violations and to demand the acquittal of the two men imprisoned for their involvement in Maryam's conversion. No one should fear being imprisoned or executed by their government for practicing their religion of choice."

ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information please visit www.persecution.org.

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