Saudi Arabia’s religious police arrested eight Christians, including one who was beaten in front of his 5-year-old son, according to a Washington, D.C.-based human rights group.

International Christian Concern says Chittirical John Thomas, an Indian national, was pulled from work in Riyadh by Saudi Muttawa authorities, dragged to his home and beaten.

In addition, seven other Indian nationals were arrested in similar fashion while they slept Saturday night. ICC identified them as Valiakalail Samuel Daniel, Koil Pillai Vijaykumar, Mutham Plackal Mathai Thomas, Pathivadathil James George, George Matthew, Biju Thomas and Saji Varghese.

The Muttawa confiscated Thomas’ Bible and other religious items and took him to the Shemaissy Detention Center in the capital. His wife has not heard from him since.

The Muslim kingdom bars all public expression of religion, except for its strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. No church buildings are allowed, and religious police crack down at times on worship in private homes.

At least one of the prisoners arrested Saturday has been abused — forced to continuously stand — and was beaten with his hands bound behind his back.

The arrests are believed to be the result of the detention Jan. 24 of another Christian, Samkutty Varghese, who had in his possession names and numbers of people in his Assembly of God group.

Last September, for the first time, the U.S. State Department named Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern,” subjecting it to possible sanctions for egregious and ongoing violations of religious freedom.

But the State Department has extended the deadline for deciding on an appropriate penalty more than two months.

“The United States and the broader international community need to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for egregious violations of religious freedom,” the group said in a statement.

From 2000 until 2004, U.S. investments in Saudi Arabia, especially in the oil production market, have steadily increased, totaling $8 billion, ICC noted.

The State Department’s annual report says that in Saudi Arabia “religious freedom does not exist” and non-Muslim “worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture for engaging in religious activity that attracts official attention.”

One year ago, religious police imprisoned a Catholic foreign worker, Brian O’Conner, for “preaching Christianity” and allegedly selling drugs, though the famly insists the charges are trumped up and his only “crime” was to be seen praying.

ICC said that in prison, O’Connor was “whipped on his back and soles of his feet by electrical wires,” causing intense pain.

O’Connor said at one point he was gasping for breath and moaning from the blows when a religious police officer placed a call to one of O’Conner’s Saudi bosses. Laughing loudly, the captor held the phone to O’Connor’s mouth so the man on the line could hear the Christian’s groans.

In March, the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House in Washington said seven Saudi Muslims who advocated human rights and religious tolerance were arrested and imprisoned in Riyadh.

Related stories:

Saudis imprison Christian convert

Man tortured for preaching Christianity

New on the Web: Saudi religious police

U.S. gives Saudi persecution a pass

Christians claim torture by Saudis

Saudis delay release of Christians

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