Saudi Arabia Jails Two African
Christians in Jeddah
Eritrean, Ethiopian Slated for Deportation
by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, May 13 (Compass) -- Two African men jailed in Saudi Arabia's port
city of Jeddah for "Christian activities" were told yesterday that they are
slated for deportation back to their homelands of Ethiopia and Eritrea within
the next few days.
Eritrean Girmaye Ambaye, 44, was arrested at his sponsor's office on March 25.
Ethiopian Endeshawe Adana Yizengaw, 32, was taken into custody on the street
near his home on April 27.
The two Christians have been jailed ever since at the Bremen deportation center
at Terhil, in the old sector of Jeddah. Both were active in the ministry of
Jeddah's Ethiopian-Eritrean Christian congregation until their residence
permits were revoked by the Saudi police, who then hunted them down and put
them under arrest.
"I think in two days I will reach Ethiopia," Yizengaw told Compass today from
Bremen's Cell 4. Speaking by telephone, the Ethiopian Christian said he has
been told he will be sent back to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on May
15 or at the latest on Sunday, May 18.
But his fellow Christian Ambaye may not be processed for deportation to the
Eritrean capital of Asmara for several more days, he said, since his passport
and paperwork from the Governate of Mecca are still in process.
"The reason they are sending us back is that we are Christians," Yizengaw said.
"We have been serving Jesus Christ here in Saudi Arabia."
On May 6, an official in the Ethiopian Consulate in Jeddah told the Christian
advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) that Yizengaw had been arrested
"because of his Christian activities."
Ambaye was approached on the morning of March 25 by two Eritrean men, who told
him his sponsor wanted to speak with him. He accompanied them back to the
sponsor's office, only to be arrested as he arrived and taken to the Bremen
According to MEC, a month before his arrest, local police forced Ambaye to
fingerprint and sign a document in Arabic. Although Ambaye has lived in Saudi
Arabia for some 12 years, he does not read Arabic.
When Yizengaw managed to visit Ambaye in prison, Ambaye warned him that the
Saudi authorities were asking about him. Shortly afterwards, a car dealer
refused to transfer a car into Yizengaw's name, saying he had a "problem" with
his residence permit. The Ethiopian checked with his sponsor's secretary, who
confirmed that the police had cancelled Yizengaw's residence permit and were
looking for him.
Police reportedly told Yizengaw's sponsor that the Ethiopian Christian was
"suspected of involvement" in prostitution, selling alcohol and drugs, helping
the U.S. government spread Christianity and trying to convert Muslims. However,
none of the alleged charges are known to have been filed officially against
According to Yizengaw himself, he was returning home from Orthodox Easter
celebrations about 3 p.m. on the afternoon of April 27 when about 14 Saudi
policemen surrounded him on the street near his home. He said he was punched
and hit during the arrest, and they searched his home and collected some of his
books and cassettes before taking him away.
"It was a very hard night that I spent," Yizengaw wrote of his arrest, in a
letter received yesterday by a member of his congregation. After the police
finished interrogating him the next day, he was sent to the deportation center.
He has been jailed in a group cell block with Ambaye for the past two weeks.
Yesterday he was moved into Cell 4, pending deportation.
Saudi authorities have kept Jeddah's Ethiopian-Eritrean congregation under open
surveillance since 11 of its members were among 14 expatriate Christians jailed
in the fall of 2001 and held for five months and more. At least a dozen members
have been questioned in recent months about their involvement in the church's
activities and warned to stop attending.
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