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Saudi women tracked after flight of suspected convert to Christianity

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Saudi women tracked after flight of suspected convert to Christianity

Country/Region: Saudi Arabia, Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia has introduced a tracking system that monitors any cross-border movements by female citizens following the case of a woman who apparently converted to Christianity and fled the country.

Women face many restrictions in Saudi Arabia
Women face many restrictions
in Saudi Arabia
Retlaw Snellac / CC BY 2.0

The measure, which uses SMS technology, came into force last week. It alerts a woman’s male guardian (father, husband, or other male relative) by text message when she leaves the country, even if they are travelling together.

In the ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to leave the country without the permission of their male guardian, who must sign a consent form at the airport or border.

The latest move to further restrict their freedom was condemned by Saudi writer Badriya al-Bishr, who said that women are held under a “state of slavery” in the kingdom.

It has been reported by Saudi media that the introduction of the tracking system was triggered by the escape earlier this year of a woman from Al-Khobar who had apparently converted to Christianity.  

Two male colleagues have been accused of helping the woman, who went to Lebanon and is now in Sweden. Her expatriate Lebanese boss, Henna Sarkees (51), a Christian, has been charged with abusing his position to coerce her to convert, and an un-named Saudi national has been charged with helping her to leave the country.

They were due to stand trial in September, but the case has been repeatedly deferred.

It has also been alleged that an official from the passport office in Al-Kharj was complicit in her escape by providing falsified authorisation for travel.

The woman’s family have been trying to secure her return to Saudi Arabia; the Saudi Embassy in Sweden has been asked to find a diplomatic means of repatriating her.

But she may face serious repercussions: conversion to Christianity is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, where an extreme and puritanical version of Islam, Wahhabism, is strictly enforced.

Women are severely restricted: they are obliged to wear the full veil, cannot leave their homes without a male companion and are not allowed to drive.

There has been some reform; King Faysal introduced compulsory education for girls in the 1960s, and today female graduates outnumber their male counterparts. But unemployment among women is high, exceeding 30%.

In October, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote in the 2015 municipal elections and reduced the powers of the religious police, who enforce compliance with sharia. 

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    • Heavenly Father, we pray to You for our Christian brothers and sisters in north-eastern Nigeria, who are so vulnerable in the face of attacks by Boko Haram militants. We remember especially those who used to live in Madagali, in Adamawa state, until their town was seized by Boko Haram two months ago. We think of those who were betrayed into the hands of Boko Haram by their neighbours pointing out Christian homes or places where Christians had hidden. We bring before You those who saw their menfolk beheaded, and women forcibly converted to Islam. We cry out to You to intervene and bring an end to the murderous attacks by Boko Haram. We pray for all the thousands of Nigerian Christians who have suffered in similar attacks that they will not lose hope or faith in You, but will know Your peace which passes understanding. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 24 hours ago

    • Pray for a pastor in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania whose home was attacked on 17 May; two of his children were injured. When he went to report the incident to the police, he was falsely accused of raping a young woman who had left Islam to follow Christ. The pastor had taken her into his home, along with four other converts, after she was thrown out by her family; it was they who made the accusation against him. He has faced much opposition because of his fruitful outreach to Muslims, and several failed attempts have been made to frame him with false accusations. Pray that the sovereign Lord will help him and that he will not be disgraced (Isaiah 50:7-9). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Oct 2014 00:00

    • A church on Mafia Island, part of the Zanzibar archipelago, was attacked on 9 May by around 80 young Muslim men armed with arrows and knives. The church members, who are mainly converts from Islam, had gathered for their weekly overnight prayer session when the attackers appeared, shouting “death to ritad’i” (those who leave Islam). They set fi re to the church, leaving the interior in ruins, and then went in search of the pastor, but he was not at home. The incident followed a bomb blast at another church in Mwanza in mainland Tanzania on 5 May, in which a worker at the church rest house was critically injured. Pray that the authorities will effectively address the increasing incidence of attacks against churches. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Oct 2014 00:00

    • Cry out to the Lord for the many Christian victims of kidnapping by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Remember especially the more than two hundred teenage girls who were taken from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state, on the night of 14 April. A video released in May showed eight of the girls speaking about their ordeal; they plead for their release, and one says, “I never expected to suffer like this in my life.” It is believed that they have been divided into at least four groups and that most of them are being held in camps outside Nigeria. They are hungry, while some are unwell and need medical attention. Pray for their safe release and for that of other kidnapped Christians. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Oct 2014 00:00

    • Deadly attacks by Boko Haram continue relentlessly in Northern Nigeria. On 15 June, gunmen descended on the remote Christian village of Daku in Borno state; they killed 15 people, chasing and shooting those trying to escape, and torched a church, several homes and a market. Two weeks later, scores of people were killed in attacks on four villages near the mainly Christian town of Chibok; in Kwada the assailants burst into four churches and opened fire on worshippers before setting the buildings on fire. Pray that our distressed and persecuted brothers and sisters may find strength in the Lord their God (1 Samuel 30:6) as they pass through this bitter ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Oct 2014 00:00

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