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2019: A deadly year in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia (MNN) – According to several human rights watchdog groups, Saudi Arabia will likely execute more people in 2019 than any other year this decade.

As of June, Riyadh has already executed over 100 people, with six months left in 2019. For comparison, this surpasses 2015, in which the government killed 158. Officially, among those sentenced to the death penalty include opposition figures, as well as criminals involved with drug trafficking, murder, and armed robbery.

Loose definitions, big problems

However, the ‘opposition figures’ seem loosely defined. It can and does include protesters. A case in point: Murtaja Qureiris who staged a protest with 30 other kids during the 2011 Arab Spring, when he was 10-years-old. CNN reports that Saudi authorities caught up to him and arrested him three years later. The same CNN sources say, having spent four years in detention, the now 18-year-old Qureiris faces terror charges and the death penalty.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Photo courtesy of babybluebbw via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/gSCgt9)

Another problem with the loose definition of ‘opposition figures’ is that they aren’t always political. Open Doors USA’s Isaac Six explains, “The concern is that many of those who are executed are part of the Shia Muslim minority. So there’s a concern that there may have been some discrimination.”

In this case, discrimination against a religious minority also includes Christians, often treated as second-class citizens. Christians also risk imprisonment, beatings, and worse because of their faith or faith-related activities.

Research validates findings

The World Watch List (WWL) — which ranks the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian — notes that the Saudi monarch has supreme power and absolute authority and can implement any law he champions as long as it complies with Sharia law and the Quran.

Six tells us that the state creates and maintains a strict Islamic system, as determined by the Saudi monarchy.

“Saudi Arabia is Sunni majority, and…the government and others really require that you follow a very strict line of Sunni Islam within Saudi Arabia. So anyone who deviates from that Sunni [tradition], especially Shia, can face a degree of discrimination and sometimes persecution.”

(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Saudi Arabia is under international scrutiny because of these policies. Six notes that the country also on the annual report issued by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“Christians take tremendous amounts of persecution, and a lot of the countries [on the WWL] are labeled as Countries of Particular Concern. All of the CPC-recommended countries from 2018 fall within the top 30 of the 2019 Open Doors’ World Watch List.”

Essentially, the USCIRF findings and CPC designation for Saudi Arabia validate the results of the WWL.

So what?

Does a CPC designation change anything for Christians in Saudi Arabia?

Six says it’s supposed to be a tool to help put religious freedom into the discussion. “When a country is designated as CPC, there are implications. By default, they may face economic or diplomatic sanctions from the United States for that designation. Now there is a mechanism where the President can waive those sanctions.”

However, Six says most of the time, when a country is labeled a CPC, “either the White House decides to waive those sanctions for reasons of national security or other reasons. Or they say that, well, this country is already sanctioned under a different law for a different reason, like trafficking or something like that. So we’ll just count that sanction as the religious freedom sanction as well.”

What can we do on behalf of those who have no voice in Saudi society? Six says prayer is the most effective recourse.

“Pray for hope for those who are facing persecution. Sometimes they can feel so isolated; they can feel so alone.”

One bright note to end this story. Open Doors USA says the small number of Saudi Christians grew over 2018. What’s more, the next generation is also becoming bolder, sharing their Christian faith with others on the internet and through Christian satellite TV channels.

To that end, he urges us to be “praying that God will comfort them [and] will bring them hope and encouragement in that time. Pray for support. Pray that others will come to them and support them in their time of crisis and need.”

Headline photo courtesy of Open Doors USA.

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