Seven months after his arrest, Brian O’Connor, a well-known Indian ex-patriot residing in Saudi Arabia, received a sentence from a Saudi Arabian court on Wednesday, Oct. 20. According to a news release issued by a Washington, D.C.-based human rights group on Monday, the Saudi court sentenced O’Connor to “10 months in jail and 300 lashes,” and warned him of harsher penalties for appealing the case.
The seven-month ordeal of Brian O’Connor is well known among human rights groups and persecution watchdogs that frequently monitor and report on the case. O’Connor, who sources described as an “upstanding citizen in the community,” was originally arrested by Saudi Arabia’s religious police on March 25, 2004 for “spreading Christianity.” According to reports received by International Christian Concern, the religious police, known also as the Muttawa, immediately tortured the young Indian native following his arrest. After chaining O’Connor’s legs and hanging him upside down, the Muttawa “came in turns of four and kicked [O’Connor] in the chest and rib area” continuously until 2 a.m.
O’Connor endured months in prison before being taken court in late September for a brief, 90-minute hearing. According to ICC, charges brought against Brian O’Connor included selling alcohol, possessing pornography, in addition to spreading Christianity. Executives at the El Khereji Corporation, where O’Connor worked as a cargo agent for Saudi Airlines declared that the allegations against O’Connor are a “cover-up” for the real reason of his arrest. Sources say it is very typical for Saudi authorities to mask their zero-tolerance policy regarding other religions in the heavily Islamic state by presenting false charges in addition to proselytization charges.
At O’Connor’s latest hearing, ICC reported that no mention was made of the previous religious charges brought before the Indian native. “This omission clearly illustrates the willingness of Saudi authorities to cover up their religious intolerance,” the human rights group stated.
After sentencing O’Connor to 10 months in jail and 300 lashes, the court reportedly asked O’Connor to respond to his sentence, at which point he stated that he did not agree to his sentence. Court officials then informed O’Connor that his case would go to a higher court and added that there would be “further extension of time” and a “heavier sentence in case the high court finds him guilty.”
The court then offered O’Connor 10 days to think about their “offer,” but he refused.
“This case is only the latest in a long string of attacks on religious freedom in Saudi Arabia,” the ICC stated. “ICC finds the actions of the Saudi Arabian judicial system to be outrageous and calls on all Americans to contact their Congressional representative and voice concern over this latest action to the Saudi embassy as well.”
Saudi Arabia, which was classified as a “country of particular concern” in the recently released U.S. annual report on international religious freedom, is said to have engaged in “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom.
According to the U.S. State Department, freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia and is not protected under the country’s laws.
“Non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture for engaging in religious activity that attracts official attention,” the department said after releasing its annual report last month.
The department also reported that the government of Saudi Arabia, which declares Islam as the official language and requires all citizens to be Muslims, prohibits public non-Muslim religious activities. It is reported that those who do not adhere to the officially sanctioned strain of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia can face “severe repercussions” at the hands of religious police.