Saudi Arabia Deporting Filipino Christian Leaders
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (EP) - The Saudi Arabian government is forcing companies to fire and deport Christian leaders who are active in the nation's secret churches, a prominent Filipino pastor charged Nov. 10 in Manila.
According to a report from Compass Direct, Pastor Ed Lapiz says that at least eight Filipino church leaders have been summarily dismissed from their jobs and sent back to the Philippines since August. He told Compass he was tracking information on 10 additional Filipino Christians, all leaders in house fellowships, who are apparently "listed" for similar treatment in the near future.
Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law, religious worship which is not part of Islam is forbidden, even among non-Muslims -- including the 400,000 foreigners working in Saudi Arabia.
Lapiz said several members of his church were arrested, interrogated, and then deported from Saudi Arabia for their Christian activities.
Gali Afurong was one of nine foreign Christians deported from Saudi Arabia in mid-July for his Christian practices, after working in Saudi Arabia for 18 years. His former employer is still holding money owed Afurong. In August, Nestor Pidloan was deported for his involvement in a house church. Other deportations of Christian leaders followed in September and October.
Penn Ronquillo was deported on October 21, after losing his job as executive secretary to the regional director of a leading soft drink company. "They were so cordial and very professional," Ronquillo said, although he was told "regretfully" that he was banned for life from Saudi Arabia. "There was no interrogation, no questions, no interview," Ronquillo said.
Ben Cabusay, who had worked for 14 years in Riyadh, said his company was given 10 days to dismiss him and expel him from the country with his wife, Beth, who worked in a hospital. His employer was "not happy" that he had to leave, and asked him why he had participated in forbidden religious activities. "I told them that I could not have stayed in the kingdom this long without my faith, without my Christian activities," Cabusay said. "My faith is me, it's part of me, and I have to stand on my faith."
Lapiz called the growing number of quiet deportations "a new approach" by Saudi authorities, whose rash of heavy-handed arrests last summer generated considerable media coverage. "The Ministry of Interior would like to avoid the blame for these latest deportations by forcing the employers to terminate them," he told Compass.
Last year a high-level Saudi leader insisted that his government does not prevent private non-Muslim religious worship in the home, but the 1997 U.S. State Department's human rights report states, "Non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, lashing and deportation for engaging in religious activity that attracts official attention."
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