Saudi Arabia Stalling Eritrean Christian's Deportation
Car Transfer Said to Delay Departure

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, June 17 (Compass) -- After nearly three months in a Saudi Arabian
jail, Eritrean Christian Girmaye Ambaye is still awaiting deportation for his
alleged participation in "Christian activities" prohibited under the country's
strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Summoned to his sponsor's office on March 25, Ambaye has remained under arrest
at Jeddah's Bremen deportation center ever since. Ambaye had been an active
member of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Christian congregation in the port city for
the past five years.

According to a representative of the Eritrean Consulate in Jeddah who spoke
with Compass today, Ambaye's March arrest "has something to do related with
religion. It's beyond our ability to do anything when it comes to religion in
Saudi Arabia," the consulate officer explained.

However, the official stated that Ambaye, who worked as a tailor in Jeddah, had
maintained a legal residence permit in the Saudi kingdom.

The only reason Ambaye still had not been deported, the consulate said last
week, was the fact that government computers showed ownership of a car
registered under his name. "In order to deport him, he has to sell his car or
transfer it to someone else," the official said, so that it no longer appears
under his name during the final security check at the airport before departure.

Ambaye has confirmed that he signed transfer papers for his car on June 8.

"Maybe this Saturday he will travel home," a friend who had visited him a few
days ago told Compass today. Weekly flights from Jeddah to Asmara, the Eritrean
capital, are scheduled on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Ambaye confirmed to Compass last week that he had lived and worked in Saudi
Arabia since 1987. "But I became a believer in Jesus Christ five years ago," he
said, "and this changed my life completely."

The jailed Eritrean shares a cell at the Bremen deportation center with about
50 other prisoners, he said. He estimated that at least 500 prisoners from more
than 20 countries are in the jail's 10 deportation wards.

Ambaye, who is 42 and unmarried, said he had no contact since his arrest with
his family in his hometown of Mendefera, 50 kilometers south of Asmara.

Another member of Ambaye's house church congregation in Jeddah, Ethiopian
Endeshawe Yizengaw, was held for three weeks in the same prison before his
deportation on May 16. Saudi security police have kept the congregation under
strict surveillance in recent months, warning some members to stop attending
and accusing others of trying to evangelize Muslims.

Nine Ethiopians and two Eritreans from the same congregation were among 14
foreign Christians subjected to six months or more of detention in the autumn
of 2001 until all were deported the following spring. Saudi officials refused
to give a formal reason for their arrest, denying them consular access for the
first five months and severely beating three of them after their transfer from
prison to the deportation center.

Saudi authorities regularly arrest and deport expatriate Christians whom they
accuse of conducting meetings for Christian worship or trying to evangelize
Muslims, although such charges are rarely produced in writing.

Return to Project Open Book