Saudi Arabia will deport nine expatriate Christians arrested last summer in a probe of house churches in Jeddah, according to sources that monitor religious persecution.

WorldNetDaily reported yesterday that 14 imprisoned Christians had been released, but five of the men were sent back to prison because their “paperwork was not in order,” said Steven Snyder, president of Washington, D.C.-based International Christian Concern.

Snyder said nine of the Christians are at a deportation center and expect to be sent back to their respective countries of origin within the next few days. He had no further information about the five returned to prison.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior arrested the men after receiving reports in June of their participation in Christian gatherings that included Saudi converts to Christianity. Saudi Arabia bars public expression of non-Muslim faiths, though officials have stated that Christian worship in homes in permitted. Under Saudi law, a Muslim who abandons Islam is subject to the death penalty.

ICC did not indicate which men are scheduled for deportation, but listed the 14 in custody as Prabhu Isaac of India; Tinsaie Gizachew, Gebeyehu Tefera, Baharu Mengistu, Beferdu Fikre, Teshome Kebret and Mubarek Hussain Keder of Ethiopia; an Ethiopian identified only as Worku; Iskander Menghis, Kebrom Haile and Joseph Girmaye of Eritrea; Afobunor Okey Buliamin of Nigeria; Dennis Morello of the Philippines; and Genet Haileab, whose country was not identified.

Saudi officials told some of the men they could return to work if an employer submitted a written request, Snyder said. But no requests have been made, and this is unlikely, he believes, because the Saudi employers probably are “under pressure not to do so or fear the consequences if they do.”

About 7 million of the 22 million people in Saudi Arabia are foreign workers, mostly from Third World countries.

The investigation of the Christians and their deportation follows standard procedure by Saudi authorities, according to Daniel Hoffman, director of U.K.-based Middle East Concern. Christians usually are arrested only after a complaint has been filed, he explained. Then an investigation is launched into the Christian’s house group, its affiliations and its leaders. When the investigation is closed, the detainees usually are deported.

This case was particularly sensitive, Hoffman said, because it began with a complaint about a Saudi citizen’s presence at a Christian gathering. For that reason, the Saudi religious police conducted their own investigation, parallel to the probe by the Saudi Ministry of Interior. The religious police enforce the country’s code of public behavior in accord with its strict interpretation of Islamic law.

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