31 August 2001

Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Holy Land

Afobunor Okey Buliamin a Nigerian arrested in Jeddah, could face the death sentence for apostasy from Islam.

Recent weeks have seen a deeply disturbing increase in incidents of persecution and violence endured by Christians in several parts of the Muslim world.

Afobunor Okey Buliamin, a Nigerian arrested in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in August could well be facing a death sentence for apostasy from Islam. Buliamin’s passport states that he is a Muslim, but he is reported to have converted to Christianity whilst working in Saudi Arabia, a ‘crime’ punished by beheading. Seven other Christians from Eritrea, Ethiopia and India have also been arrested recently in raids by Saudi Arabia’s religious police, the Metowah.

In Afghanistan the Taliban have shut down the offices of two Christian aid agencies: International Assistance Mission and Serve. The decision to close the offices follows an investigation into eight Western Christians and sixteen Afghan staff members of another aid agency: Shelter Now International, who are being held under suspicion of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. They are to be tried according to Islamic law (Shari’ah). If any of the Afghans are found guilty, or if they themselves are discovered to be converts, they will face a death sentence. Their relatives, though desperately concerned for them, have nevertheless declared that if any are found to be converts they will kill them themselves. “If my brother has changed religion I would kill him first” said one.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, Government figures estimate that there are some 20,000 orphaned Christian child refugees across the country. Many of the orphans lost their parents in the savage anti-Christian violence still going on in Indonesia’s Moluccas islands. In at least one Muslim settlement Christian orphans have been forced to work as slaves in the paddy fields. Elsewhere, in the Moluccas, there are reports of young Christians being seized from their villages by Islamic extremist militants and then turned against their own people. Threatened with torture and death they are forced to attack their own families and villages.

In the Holy Land, the Christians of Beit Jala, an overwhelmingly Christian Palestinian town outside Bethlehem which was briefly occupied by Israeli armed forces earlier this week, have been reduced to a state of desperate poverty. For eleven months they have been caught in the cross fire between Israelis and Palestinians. Most are struggling to find enough food to survive and are living with mounting unpaid bills for basic services like electricity or water. In many places these services have already been cut. Every day Christian families are fleeing Beit Jala; many will never return.