According to International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., and with agents in countries where Christians experience persecution, the 35 Christian Ethiopian men and women were violently arrested on Dec. 15 during a prayer meeting at a private home in Jeddah, a city on the western coast of the country. The group was reportedly arrested for holding a meeting in which both men and women were present, which is frowned upon in the conservative Muslim country. But ICC told CP that the prisoners claim they are being persecuted because of their faith.
The agency has previously reported that the prisoners were physically harassed by prison officials after their arrest – the men were allegedly assaulted and the women humiliated by a sexually inappropriate strip search. Human Rights Watch confirmed that report. The men and women have also reportedly been complaining of insufficient care.
Now, while still in prison, the Christian group is reportedly experiencing pressures to convert to Islam.
"The Muslim preacher [that was sent by officials to speak to the prisoners] vilified Christianity, denigrated the Bible and told us that Islam is the only true religion," one of the female prisoners said, according to ICC. "The preacher told us to convert to Islam. When the preacher asked us, we didn't deny about our Christian faith.
"I was so offended with her false teachings that I left the meeting," the woman added.
The prisoner also expressed fear that the teaching sessions might incite Muslim prisoners to harass and even attack the group, ICC said in a statement.
The detained Christians are reportedly still in the dark about their legal status.
"Why don't they release us? We want to go back to our country and worship freely," the female prisoner told the agency.