Hindu American Foundation Condemns Actions of Saudi Arabian Religious Police 

Tampa, FL (August 13, 2005) - The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) expressed concern over the latest news that detention cases of Indian nationals on allegations of involvement in religious activities in Saudi Arabia are steadily on the rise.

On August 3, 2005, the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported that Indians traveling to Saudia Arabia have been warned not to carry religious scriptures, photographs or icons, as per an official statement issued by the government of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The Indian Ambassador in Riyadh said, "Indian nationals should be strictly briefed against organizing group religious activities in private residences or undertaking missionary or preaching activity." This came on the eve of the arrest of nine Indians for allegedly preaching Christianity in Saudi Arabia, reported IANS.

"It is particularly shocking that Saudi Arabia, as a spiritual heartland itself with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, continues to ban private worship by non-Muslims," said Pawan Deshpande, member of HAF Executive Council. "Preventing Hindus from practicing their own faith in the privacy of their own homes deserves unequivocal condemnation by the global community". Especially worrisome is that the role of the Muttwa'in (Religious Police) is enforced by the state.

All forms of non-Muslim worship are banned in the ultra-conservative country, whose laws conform to Sharia, laws based on the teachings of the Koran and Wahhabi Islam. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated in a 2005 annual report, "The Saudi government continues to engage in an array of severe violations of human rights as a part of its official repression of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief."

Reuter's reported the recent death of King Fahd, which has revived debate on whether crown prince Abdullah will change state policies on his ascension to the throne. In February 2005, King Abdullah said that changing the conservative kingdom could take a long time, his comments recharging fears among human rights organizations that the fundamental rights of non-Muslims in the region will continue to be oppressed.

HAF expresses deep concern for the blatant violations of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia against non-Islamic faiths. "The intolerance in Saudi Arabia is disturbing because the law affects a large immigrant Hindu workforce," said Aseem Shukla, M.D., member of HAF of Directors. "We call for the U.S. government to demand that Saudi Arabia implement immediate reforms with regards to religious freedom in that country."