Three Ethiopian Christians detained for the past six months without charges claim they were severely beaten and tormented this week 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 obtained by Washington, D.C.-based International Christian Concern. “This was witnessed by over 1,000 deportees.”

The Christians are among 14 foreigners who were detained last summer by Saudi Arabia for their Christian activities. Eight were deported to their countries of origin earlier this month and another was booked on an outbound flight last night.

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 law applies the death penalty to citizens who choose to abandon Islam. None of the Christians were formally charged, however.

The three Ethiopians – Tinsaie Gizachew, Baharu Mengistu and Gebeyehu Tefera – say their treatment was in retaliation for a petition they sent to the Ethiopian Consulate in Jeddah.

The Ethiopians said in the letter obtained by ICC that on Monday “by order of the Bremen Prison Commander Major Bender Sultan Shabani and with no hearing, trial, or process of law, we were illegally subjected to severe punishment and physical abuse.

“Our bodies are wounded, swollen, terribly bruised and with great pain,” the men said. “Baharu’s kidney may have been damaged and he is passing blood with his urine. When we reported to the prison hospital for treatment, we were slapped and told to come back after we were dead. It seems as if we were brought to Bremen Deportation Prison to be tortured and tormented to death.”

The men said that about one month ago the regional authority, Governor Prince Abdul Majid, decided to deport them after “much pressure from several governments and international human rights organizations.”

The Ethiopians noted that they believe the governor had no knowledge of their recent beating and needs to be informed.

“The room we are in is only 11.5 x 30 meters, with at times up to 1,800 men of all nationalities crammed into this tiny space,” the Ethiopians said. “There is no furniture – no space to lie down except for short naps taken in shifts on the floor. About 80 percent of the inmates, including us, have been infected with contagious diseases. Some have AIDS. The toilets are overflowing. The food is not clean. When we complain, we are chained and handcuffed as punishment.”

Mengistu is scheduled to leave Saudi Arabia on Saturday with his wife, who is in her eighth month of pregnancy.

“We hope there will not be a delay because of this flogging and our present condition,” the letter said.

ICC reported that one of its representatives confronted an Ethiopian Consulate official in Jeddah by phone on Tuesday. Since then the Ethiopian vice consul and his assistant have made several visits to the prison and arranged with Saudi prison officials to take Mengistu to a hospital for treatment.

Mengistu, however, according to an ICC statement, has “refused medical treatment, fearing it may be a convenient place for them to finish him off and blame it on medical complications.”

Some medication has been sent to him by friends from the outside, ICC said.

According to London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, two other Christians also await deportation, Filipino Dennis Moreno (in some reports listed as Dennis Morello) and Ismail “Worku” Abubaker, another Ethiopian, who was transferred to a prison in Mecca on Jan. 8 in order to “settle his affairs.”

On Jan. 12, authorities deported Kebrom Haile, an Eritrean. On Jan. 18, Afobunor Okey Buliamin of Nigeria, Iskander Menghis of Eritrea and Ethiopians Mesfin Berhanu, Mubarek Hussain Keder and Genet Haileab flew home. Joseph Girmaye of Eritera and Beferdu Fikre of Ethiopia were deported last weekend.

CSW said that Prabhu Isaac of India was booked on an outbound flight scheduled Wednesday night, according to a spokesman at the Indian Consulate in Jeddah. Isaac was refused exit at the airport twice this month. On Jan. 17, the airport computer mistakenly registered his wife as still being in Saudi Arabia and on Jan. 27 he was found to have an outstanding traffic penalty.

Related stories:

Saudis delay release of Christians

Saudis to deport imprisoned Christians

Saudi Arabia releases Christian prisoners

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