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Saudi women tracked after flight of suspected convert to Christianity

Country/Region: Saudi Arabia, Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia has introduced a tracking system that monitors any cross-border movements by female citizens following the case of a woman who apparently converted to Christianity and fled the country.

Women face many restrictions in Saudi Arabia
Women face many restrictions
in Saudi Arabia
Retlaw Snellac / CC BY 2.0

The measure, which uses SMS technology, came into force last week. It alerts a woman’s male guardian (father, husband, or other male relative) by text message when she leaves the country, even if they are travelling together.

In the ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to leave the country without the permission of their male guardian, who must sign a consent form at the airport or border.

The latest move to further restrict their freedom was condemned by Saudi writer Badriya al-Bishr, who said that women are held under a “state of slavery” in the kingdom.

It has been reported by Saudi media that the introduction of the tracking system was triggered by the escape earlier this year of a woman from Al-Khobar who had apparently converted to Christianity.  

Two male colleagues have been accused of helping the woman, who went to Lebanon and is now in Sweden. Her expatriate Lebanese boss, Henna Sarkees (51), a Christian, has been charged with abusing his position to coerce her to convert, and an un-named Saudi national has been charged with helping her to leave the country.

They were due to stand trial in September, but the case has been repeatedly deferred.

It has also been alleged that an official from the passport office in Al-Kharj was complicit in her escape by providing falsified authorisation for travel.

The woman’s family have been trying to secure her return to Saudi Arabia; the Saudi Embassy in Sweden has been asked to find a diplomatic means of repatriating her.

But she may face serious repercussions: conversion to Christianity is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, where an extreme and puritanical version of Islam, Wahhabism, is strictly enforced.

Women are severely restricted: they are obliged to wear the full veil, cannot leave their homes without a male companion and are not allowed to drive.

There has been some reform; King Faysal introduced compulsory education for girls in the 1960s, and today female graduates outnumber their male counterparts. But unemployment among women is high, exceeding 30%.

In October, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote in the 2015 municipal elections and reduced the powers of the religious police, who enforce compliance with sharia. 

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Daily prayer

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  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 9 hours ago

  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Lift up to the Lord persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka, where at least 65 anti-Christian incidents took place during 2013, including repeat attacks on several believers and their property in October 2013. However, a Sri Lankan government minister from a Buddhist nationalist party denied the accounts, saying that they might be “made up”. The minister claimed that Sri Lankans are “one family … trying to live together after a long civil war”. Pray that the Sri Lankan government will recognise the danger that our brothers and sisters face from militant Buddhists and that the authorities will provide effective protection for vulnerable Christians. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Condemned Christian mother Aasia Bibi’s final appeal hearing is scheduled to take place tomorrow (14 April) having been deferred twice. She was sentenced to death for blasphemy in November 2010 having been falsely accused of insulting Muhammad following an argument with Muslim co-workers. Aasia has been languishing in jail since the accusation was made in June 2009. Pray that her appeal will finally go ahead and that the judges will have the courage to acquit and release Aasia; there are concerns that they may give in to pressure from hardline Islamists who have been calling for her execution. Pray that Aasia, her husband and children will know the Lord’s peace as they await the verdict. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Indians have started going to the polls this week in a general election that is taking place in phases until 12 May. The ruling, secular Congress party is expected to be defeated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This would be an ominous outcome for the country’s Christian minority. The BJP has given support to extremist groups that attack Christians; states under the party’s rule have generally experienced a rise in anti-Christian violence. It has introduced anti-conversion laws on a state level, and has pledged to introduce national legislation to curb "missionary" activity and end proselytising if elected nationally. Pray for wisdom for Indians as they vote and that the outcome will result in a just government that upholds the rights and freedoms of all citizens. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Apr 2014 00:00

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