Nine expatriate Christians imprisoned in a probe of house churches in Jeddah fear their detention may drag on despite promises by Saudi authorities, according to sources close to the situation.

The men were transferred to the Terahyl Deportation Prison in Jeddah on Dec. 24 after officials promised they would soon be released, said International Christian Concern, a monitor of religious persecution in Washington, D.C. But ICC President Steven Snyder said yesterday that the men are discouraged and believe they could be detained for another several months. They have been imprisoned since last summer.

Conditions for the men are very poor, a source reported to England-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

“Rain is seeping into the cells, food and leftovers are served from one cooking pot which is never cleaned, toilet facilities are flooded and overcrowded and family visits are not permitted,” the CSW source said.

Authorities arrested the men after a citizen complained that a Saudi national participated in a June gathering of Christians. Saudi Arabia bars public expressions of faith apart from Sunni Islam and applies the death penalty to Muslims who abandon Islam.

None of the Christians has been formally charged, however.

Five other men arrested in the same investigation also expected to be released but were sent back to prison because authorities claimed their paperwork was not in order.

The nine men at the deportation prison, according to ICC, are Prabhu Isaac of India; Tinsaie Gizachew, Gebeyehu Tefera, Baharu Mengistu and Beferdu Fikre of Ethiopia; Iskander Menghis and Kebrom Haile of Eritrea; Afobunor Okey Buliamin of Nigeria; and Dennis Morello of the Philippines.

Four of the men at the deportation prison are suffering from dysentery and influenza and another needs insulin, ICC said, but none of the prisoners has received medical attention.

The men at the Sharafiah Ruis prison near Jeddah are Mubarek Hussain Keder and Teshome Kebret of Ethiopia; an Ethiopian listed only as Worku; Joseph Girmaye of Eritrea; and Genet Haileab, whose country was not identified.

The 14-year-old son of Iskinder Menghis, Philmon, wrote to ICC appealing for help, noting that his mother and four siblings “are facing big problems.” They are unable to pay for their basic needs and “the provisions in the house are getting scarce day by day,” he said.

Related story:

Saudis to deport imprisoned Christians

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