2 Christians released from Saudi jail after six months imprisonment
Two Indian Pentecostal Christians who were imprisoned for six months in Saudi Arabia, for alleged attempted Christian conversions, were set free recently and allowed to return to their home country.
Nese Yohan, 31, and Vasantha Sekhar Vara, 28, members of the thriving house church Rejoice in the Church of the Lord in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, returned to India on July 24, after being released two weeks before by Saudi officials.
Vara and Yohan, who are members of a house church with some 70 members, were arrested in January while holding a Bible study in the house church apartment, attended largely by expat Indian workers.
“Saudi religious police and other police confiscated Bibles and other Christian literature as well as the church’s sound installation and instruments, such as guitars, during the [January] raid. They even broke furniture, suit cases, and painted what I believe were Koran verses on the walls,” an elder of the church told Worthy News.
The two men were initially placed on a “pre-trial detention” of 45 days and were severely beaten. Then they were transferred to an infamous and overcrowded jail in Riyadh and detained for months without trial.
When members of the church were allowed to see Vara and Yohan, they looked wan. An elder told Worthy News, “Our brothers’ head hair was shaved and they looked very thin.”
The two men were not allowed to pray or read the Bible. Yohan was coughing and there were concerns about tuberculosis, but he was allegedly denied medical treatment.
They also could not sleep well in the overcrowded cell. The elder told Worthy News that Vara and Yohan were “the only known Christians there imprisoned for their faith. The other inmates are criminals.”
Vara lost his job while in prison. He was also being pressured to convert to Islam, but he refused saying, “If I have to die for my God, I will die for him here,” Worthy News reported.
Their freedom on July 12 was unexpected but welcome news after a lengthy and often frustrating process of negotiations. The elder told Worthy News it was “a result of prayers. The world should know about their plight. Praise the Lord, God gives us victory.”
However, an anonymous source told Worthy News that local authorities have been exerting pressure on the house church, and the homes of members of the church have also been raided. Christians believe Saudi officials are trying to intimidate them so they will not worship in private homes.
False charges, false evidence
“These two Christians have faced false charges and false evidence, Logan Maurer of International Christian Concern told Christian Today. “The Saudi government continues to engage in an array of severe violations of human rights as part of its repression of freedom of religion.”
Saudi Arabia has been cracking down on Christians for many years. In 2004, some 28 Indian Christians were arrested for practicing their faith. In 2008, another 16 Indian workers were arrested and detained for three days. Two years later, half of them voluntarily left the country, and three were deported.
Officially, Saudi Arabia’s 26 million population is 100 percent Muslim, but there are some seven million foreign workers in the country, with 1.5 of them Indian nationals, many of whom are Christian.