Rumours have emerged that visitors to Saudi Arabia, if possessing a Bible or other obvious symbols of Christianity, can have them confiscated by customs officials - according to religious rights campaigners.
This week, Danny Nalliah, an evangelical pastor born in Sri Lanka, who during the 1990s, spent two years in Saudi Arabia, in an interview said:
"It's a very well-known fact that if you have a Bible at customs when you enter the airport, and if they find the Bible, that the Bible is taken and put in the shredder."
"If you have more than one Bible you will be taken into custody and if you have a quantity of Bibles you will be given 70 lashes for sure - you could even be executed."
Another witness, a friend of his, a fellow Christian in Saudi Arabia, reported about a Catholic nun, who was in a transit lounge at the airport in Jeddah - the gateway to Mecca, used by millions of Hajj pilgrims each year - when at a custom desk she experienced an ungracious incident.
"They opened her bag, went through her prayer book, put the prayer book through the shredder ... took the crucifix off her neck and smashed it, tormented her for many minutes."
Finally, another Muslim official protested about the behaviour of the custom officials, pointing out that she was not entering the country but only in transit and would be leaving on the next plane.
Evangelical Pastor Nalliah, whilst in Saudi Arabia, was deeply involved with the underground church and on behalf of the believers, possessed hundreds of Bibles that had been smuggled into the country.
One morning, he had a close call when armed members of the notorious Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - the religious police, or muttawa - hammered at his front door at 1am, he reported.
Having 400 smuggled Bibles in his room, he said, "That was a crime equal to rape, murder, armed robbery, and in Saudi Arabia you get the same punishment," - the death penalty.
Nalliah said he had earnestly prayed and the men left without entering his home, and described it as a miracle.
Furthermore, Nagi Kheir, spokesman for the American Coptic Association and a veteran campaigner for religious freedom in the Middle East, wrote in an article several years ago that some Christians upon entering Saudi Arabia reported that they have had their personal Bibles taken from them and placed into a paper shredder. The reports were backed up by International Christian Concern in a 2001 report.
In its most recent report on religious freedom around the world, the State Department said, "Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, including...non-Muslim materials, such as Bibles and religious videotapes," it said. "Such materials are subject to confiscation, although rules appear to be applied arbitrarily."
In addition, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent watchdog set up under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, in a 2003 report on Saudi Arabia said: "Customs officials regularly confiscate Bibles and other religious material when Christian foreign workers arrive at the airport from their home countries initially or return from a vacation."
Inquiries sent to the Saudi Embassy in Washington and the Saudi Information Ministry in Riyadh, about the legality of Bibles and about the shredder claims have not been answered.
[Source: Patrick Goodenough - Cybercast News Service.]