News Alert |

TBC Staff, 3/3/03 [Excerpts]: Saudi Arabia will be conspicuously absent from a State Department list of the worst violators of religious freedom, confirmed a State Department official who spoke to WorldNetDaily on condition of anonymity.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to release tomorrow the department’s annual list of nations subject to diplomatic action because of their “systematic, ongoing and egregious” violations of religious freedom, the official said.

Newsweek magazine first reported that Saudi Arabia will once again not be a “country of particular concern,” a designation that requires action by the U.S., ranging from a quiet diplomatic démarche to sanctions.

The independent panel established by Congress in 1998 to promote religious freedom as a U.S. policy goal—the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF—annually recommends to the administration which countries should be on the list of violators, and each year it regards Saudi Arabia as an obvious choice.

However, America’s strategic ally and trading partner has never been selected by the secretary of state, despite the State Department’s own repeated assessment that freedom of religion in the kingdom “does not exist.”

Nina Shea, one of nine USCIRF commissioners, told WND, nevertheless, she is surprised at the omission this year “because it’s incontrovertible that there is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. It’s become clear that this extremist, rigid, Wahhabist interpretation of Islam that is practiced and promulgated in Saudi Arabia is an actual security threat to the U.S.,” she said, noting that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi. “[The administration] undercuts our security concerns by soft-pedaling that.”

In its 2002 religious freedom report, the State Department says that in Saudi Arabia, “Islam is the official religion, and the law requires that all citizens be Muslims….

“The government prohibits the public practice of non-Muslim religions,” the report states.

The commission charged that the “Saudi government’s severe violations of religious freedom include torture and cruel and degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; and flagrant denials of the right to liberty and security of the person, including coercive measures directed against women and the extended jurisdiction of the religious police, who exercise their vague powers in ways that violate others’ religious freedom.”

As WorldNetDaily reported last year, three Ethiopian Christians detained without charge were severely beaten and tormented under the authority of a Saudi prison official in Jeddah. “Being suspended with chains, each of us were flogged 80 times with a flexible metal cable and also severely kicked and beaten with anything that came into their hands,” said a letter from the Ethiopians.

The Christians were among 14 foreigners arrested after reports of their participation in gatherings that included Saudi converts to Christianity. Saudi law applies the death penalty to citizens who choose to abandon Islam.