News from Saudi Arabia, Austria and Ukraine

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on September 16, 2014

SAUDI ARABIA – Government’s Islamist police force arrests dozens of Christians ‘including women and children’ 

Islamist police in Saudi Arabia have stormed a Christian prayer meeting and arrested its entire congregation, including women and children, and confiscated their bibles, it has been reported.

The raid was the latest incident of a swingeing crackdown on religious minorities in Saudi Arabia by the country’s hard-line Muslim Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.


Under fire: King Abdullah has been widely criticised for his country’s intollerance of religions other than Islam.

The 28 Christians were said to be worshipping at the home of an Indian national in the eastern city of Khafji, when the police entered the building and took them into custody. They have not been seen or heard from since, raising concerns among human rights groups as to their whereabouts.

Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told “Saudi Arabia is continuing the religious cleansing that has always been its official policy. 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 two million Christian foreign workers in that country. Those victimized are typically poor, from Asian and African countries with weak governments.”

Activists are now calling on the U.S. to use its considerable influence in the region to help secure the release of the incarcerated Christians. [Saudi Arabia considers the U.S. to be one of its closest allies and diplomatic partners.  U.S. presidents, George W. Bush and current president, Barack Obama have strong and close relations with senior members of the Saudi Royal Family.]

A spokesperson for the Saudi government claimed to have no knowledge of the arrests, according to Fox News. But the English-language newspaper, The Saudi Gazette, as well as several Saudi Arabic-language news outlets, have reported on the arrests.

Arabic-language news channel, Akhbar 24, said the arrests came after the Kingdom’s religious police got a tip about a home-based church. …

At least 3.5 million Christians live in the Gulf Arab region, mostly Catholic workers from India and the Philippines.

Saudi_Arabia_mapIn Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, it is against the law for Muslims to abandon their faith, a practice known as apostasy. Proselytizing* for other religions or practicing them openly is also illegal. [*Proselytize is to try to persuade people to join your religion]

Judges have considerable leeway in how to interpret the kingdom’s Sharia code of Islamic law and are not bound by sentencing guidelines or a system of precedent. Both capital and corporal punishment are legal.

Last year King Abdullah, who has promoted limited reforms since coming to the throne in 2005, opened a center for religious dialogue in Vienna that drew criticism because of Saudi Arabia’s own lack of religious freedom. In 2008 he sponsored an inter-faith conference in Spain.

AUSTRIA – Government to ban Islamic State symbols in crackdown on militants

Austria plans to ban militant Islamist groups’ symbols and strip citizenship from people who travel abroad to fight with jihadists in a crackdown announced by conservative government ministers on Monday.

ISIS-symbolThe People’s Party (OVP) campaign still needs to be coordinated with their Social Democrat coalition partners but looks likely to be adopted amid mounting concern in Austria about the potential security threat from radicalized Muslims, especially those who ally with Islamic State.

Authorities suspect more than 140 people in Austria – most of them foreigners who sought asylum – have allied themselves with Islamist groups fighting abroad. Expressions of support for them on the Internet are becoming common.

Thousands of Westerners have travelled to Syria and Iraq voluntarily to join militant groups including Islamic State. The trend has raised fears in Europe and the United States of attacks by returning fighters.

austria-mapGermany, which believes some 400 German citizens have joined IS in Iraq and Syria, imposed a similar ban last week on Islamic State symbols such as the black flag used by the group in internet postings, and any promotion of the group.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in August that anyone bearing IS flags or trying to recruit for the group would be arrested. He has also said he would consult on discretionary powers to prevent Britons returning home if they have pledged allegiance to what he called extremist causes.

Austrian Vice-Chancellor and OVP leader Reinhold Mitterlehner said an influx of foreign sympathizers for Islamist forces and the Islamic State’s beheading of another western hostage had created a “dangerous European dimension” to the Syrian conflict.

“It is our duty as politicians to react to this increasing radicalization and to take appropriate steps,” he said.

The new campaign aims to promote cultural exchanges between traditionally Roman Catholic Austria and its roughly half a million Muslims, to prevent youth from getting drawn into jihadist networks, and to tighten existing laws.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner stressed a need for a zero-tolerance policy against radical Islamists, as shown by Austria’s adding 20 staff to federal and provincial agencies in charge of combating terrorism. “There is no place in our society for IS symbols on T-shirts and flags, so we want to ban IS symbols,” she added.

Her ministry was working on legislation to revoke citizenship from “foreign fighters” and to prevent minors travelling outside the European Union without the consent of their guardians. …

UKRAINE – NATO begins military exercises in Ukraine

America and the leading Western powers began a military exercise in Ukraine on Monday after renewed fighting in the east claimed at least six lives in breach of a supposed ceasefire.

UkraineLvivAbout 1,300 troops from 15 countries joined Exercise Rapid Trident held in the Lviv region of western Ukraine. America sent 200 troops and Britain dispatched a reconnaissance troop from the Light Dragoons with 40 personnel.

This multi-national force, which included soldiers from 11 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries, carried out a “battalion-level field training exercise,” said a US Army statement. The manoeuvres were held “at the explicit request of the Ukrainian government and military.”

The presence of American, British and other NATO forces in Ukraine is designed to emphasize the alliance’s support for the government in Kiev. NATO believes that about 1,000 Russian troops are also inside Ukraine, supporting rebels in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

For the first time, one European country now contains both NATO troops and Russian combat units, although they are deployed at opposite ends of Ukraine about 700 miles apart.

Fighting has continued in the east despite a ceasefire signed on Sept 5. Six civilians were killed in Donetsk on Sunday when insurgents attacked the city’s airport, which is held by government forces.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Mail and Reuters and London’s Daily Telegraph on Sept. 15.)



What is The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice?


ON NATO:  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of 28 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949. …The fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. Read about Ukraine-NATO relations at wikipedia.