Dozens of Christians arrested at a prayer meeting in Saudi Arabia need America's help, according to a key lawmaker who is pressing the State Department on their behalf.
Some 28 people were rounded up Friday by hard-line Islamists from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the home of an Indian national in the eastern Saudi city of Khafji, and their current situation is unknown, according to human rights advocates.
"Saudi Arabia is continuing the religious cleansing that has always been its official policy," Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told FoxNews.com. "It is the only nation state in the world with the official policy of banning all churches. This is enforced even though there are over 2 million Christian foreign workers in that country. Those victimized are typically poor, from Asian and African countries with weak governments."
In Friday's crackdown, several Bibles were confiscated, according to reports from the Kingdom.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va, told FoxNews.com he will press the U.S. ambassador in Riyadh and the State Department to assist the arrested Christians.
“I hope our government will speak up,” said Wolf, adding that the anti-Christian raid was not surprising given that the Saudi regime “did not want our soldiers to wear crosses during the Desert Storm” operation in 1991 to stop Iraqi jingoism.
A spokeswoman for Saudi Arabia’s embassy press officer, Nail Al-Jubeir, in Washington, told FoxNews.com that “Mr. Jubeir has nothing on that [arrests of Christians].” She suggested calling the Saudi Gazette newspaper.
The English-language paper Saudi Gazette, along with Saudi Arabic-language news outlets, published a news item about the mass arrests.
An article posted on the Arabic-language news website Akhbar 24 said the arrests came after the Kingdom's religious police got a tip about a home-based church. The report further noted that “distorted writings of the Bible were found and musical instruments, noting their referral to the jurisdictional institutions.”
The Saudi media reported different compositions of the arrested Christians. Some reports said the Christians were men and women, while the Saudi Gazette wrote that children, as well as men and women, were detained. It was unclear if a court date has been set in the notoriously opaque fundamentalist court system.
Saudi Arabia has gone to great lengths over the years to re-brand its image as a tolerant advocate of multi-religious dialogue. The arch-conservative monarchy funded the Vienna-based King Abdullah International Center for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue. Nevertheless, critics argue, Saudi Arabia’s Islamist religious police continue to expunge any trace of Christianity within its territory.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah appears to be tied up in knots because of his conflicting messages to the international community about religious diversity.
"Such actions are especially dangerous in the current situation, where the world is seeing the rise of extreme Islamist groups in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia and elsewhere," Shea said. "The West should demand that its strategic ally, Saudi Arabia, release the Christians at once and allow them to pray according to their own faith traditions. Otherwise, Riyadh will appear to be validating the practices of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria.”
Secretary of State John Kerry is slated to visit Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to marshal support to combat the radical Islamic State terror organization. It was unclear if Kerry plans to raise the arrests of the Christians. On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Pskai said she was not aware of the arrests, but pledged to look into the reports.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Weinthal is a fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal