Wrist slap

"Wrist slap" Continued...

Issue: "Riots in France," Nov. 19, 2005

Police dumped Mr. Daniel at Riyadh's Shumesi Deportation Center, where he shared a cell with some 200 foreigners, including Ethiopians, Sudanese, and Pakistanis. Four hours later, they transferred him to another cell where all the 200 inmates were Indian.

Crammed into a space measuring about 25-by-25 feet, the men could only stand. The cell had four toilets, only two of which worked, and the men had to drink from five or six water taps. Window air-conditioning units did not work. No one had a change of clothes, and many had been there four, five, or even 10 months without a day of fresh air. If they complained of illness, they often took beatings.

At 5:30 p.m. each day jail officials shoved in trays of bread marked "Food for Pigs"-all the inmates received, apart from some occasional dates. Often there were fewer than 200 pieces of bread, sometimes sparking fights as the men scrabbled to get their rations. "No one is allowed to visit," Mr. Daniel told WORLD. "No one knows they are there. . . . I heard the deportation center was bad. I never thought it was like this."

Mr. Daniel did not have to stay long. He had smuggled a cell phone tucked into a sock and quickly called the Indian Embassy. After three days an embassy official secured his release, made easier by the pastor's employment release letter. That is usually not the case; inmates told him jailers had beaten some of them in front of embassy officials. Countries such as India do not carry much clout in Saudi Arabia and are reluctant to complain-in India's case, to do so is to risk the cash 1.5 million resident Indians send home each year.

If Mr. Daniel's experience was harrowing, it is no worse than what foreign Christians have suffered before. A decade ago, authorities meted out lashes and longer imprisonments. The question is whether the Saudis will make systemic reforms in the coming months-and whether the United States will penalize them if they do not.

Pressing Saudi Arabia for religious freedom, State Department officials say, requires delicate diplomatic footwork. Negotiating to release religious prisoners should not take months but does in restricted countries. At the same time, hard efforts to penalize the Saudis can backfire, rousing the kingdom's defenders within the State Department: After the Trafficking in Persons office succeeded in ranking Saudi Arabia as a country doing little to combat rampant slavery, U.S. sanctions or suspended aid could have followed. Instead, the kingdom received a "national interest" waiver.

John Hanford, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, emphasizes that the Saudis' extension is only 180 days. "We feel like our discussions are productive, unlike discussions with some other countries," he said. "We feel like the government of Saudi Arabia is moving in the right direction. . . . My heart and passion in this is to advance religious freedom as far as we can. And if I feel like some additional time to discuss some important issues may yield some meaningful change, I want to give that a try."

Out of the deportation center, Mr. Daniel received 15 days to pack up. His wife remains in Saudi Arabia, her income needed to support their four children's schooling. His swift ejection is the only response he received to the letter he sent to the governor on private worship. That, and a denial from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that he was even detained: "After the necessary investigations, it was found that yours was not a detention," it stated. "You were not handed over to the police."


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