• PERSIAN GULF \ Dec 28, 2002
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    Saudi Arabia bans Open Christmas Celebrations
Saudi Arabia bans Open Christmas Celebrations RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (ANS) -- Local Christians and expatriates in Saudi Arabia are forced to celebrate Christmas in secret amid concern about the feared religious police.

Foreign workers hold discrete holiday parties within walled compounds, out of sight of the law enforcement authorities who guard against what they see as offences to the Islamic faith, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

"I only pray in my room," a Roman Catholic laborer from Sri Lanka told AP. Others are also apparently forced to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ privately in the kingdom of over 20 million people. Those who don't are reportedly often persecuted, imprisoned and in some cases even faced with the death penalty.

News about the difficulties came as The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an organization watching religious persecution, urged Christians not to forget the suffering church in the Middle East and around the world.


"As you gather with family and friends to celebrate the birth of Christ this week, please keep our persecuted family members in your prayers. Remember our suffering brothers and sisters in prison as (written in the Bible)," VOM said in a statement obtained by ASSIST News Service (ANS).

Saudi Arabia also seemed to reflect countries like China and Pakistan where VOM said "young boys and girls who will spend this Christmas without their mommy or daddy. Pray they will find strength and comfort in their Heavenly Father and pray they will experience the peace of the Holy Spirit," VOM requested.


Meanwhile in the Saudi capital Riyadh AP quoted a shop keeper as as saying that the ever-vigilant religious police have confiscated even Christmas cards. He now points customers to more neutral cards such as "Seasons Greetings" discreetly visible beside the cash register. "At $1.35, they're half the price of the Christmas cards, and half the risk," noted AP Writer Susan Sevareid.

The United States has expressed concern about the situation in the country where thousands of American soldiers are stationed. The kingdom, as the birthplace of Islam, is charged with protecting the faith's "holiest" shrines at Mecca and Medina.

A recent US State Department report said that "freedom of religion does not exist," in Saudi Arabia. It is not that way everywhere in the Middle East. In the neighboring Persian Gulf state of Bahrain for instance, luxury hotels are decorated with brightly lit trees and poinsettias, and signs advertise Christmas meals, AP said.