Two Filipino Christians Beheaded

Former Cellmate Says Men Executed for Christian Witness, Not Robbery

ISTANBUL, July 16 (Compass) Two Filipino Christians involved in Bible studies and Christian prayers in the Saudi prison where they were jailed were beheaded by the sword on May 4 in Riyadh. According to a May 5 article in the Saudi newspaper "Al-Jazeerah," Ruel Janda and Arnel Betran were convicted and executed for "forced armed robbery" by order 4/462 of the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia. During the alleged incident in a Riyadh shop, the paper said, the two were accused of striking an employee on the head with an iron bar.

Saudi Arabia strictly enforces Islamic law by publicly executing convicted murderers, drug smugglers, rapists and armed robbers.

However, a former cellmate of the executed men has declared that the two Catholic Christians were jailed more than two years ago on fabricated charges. According to recently released prisoner Donato Lama, the men were most likely executed because of the particularly active Christian witness of Janda among fellow Filipino cellmates.

Lama, who was jailed in Section Four of the Al-Malaz Prison with Janda and Betran until his release March 28, told Compass by telephone from the Philippines that the charges of armed robbery against the two men were "false and fabricated."

"There had been an argument at the store where they worked," Lama said, "and a fight broke out between them and some Pakistani and Egyptian nationals. Afterwards, they took revenge against Ruel and Arnel by accusing them of stealing from the store." The two executed men had been in prison since April 7, 1995.

Lama said he had met Janda and Betran during his own lengthy imprisonment in the same prison, where he was being held on charges of "promoting Christianity" in Saudi Arabia. A computer programmer for Saudia airlines, Lama was arrested when police discovered a snapshot of him praying with other expatriate Christians in Riyadh on Christmas Day, 1984.

During their incarceration together, Lama said, he had grown "very close in faith" to Janda and several other Christian Filipinos.

Lama said that he and Janda were both locked into an isolation cell with a Saudi madman in September and October of 1996, after Muslim Filipino cellmates reported them to the guards for conducting Bible studies and praying with other prisoners in the cell. After the eight-week ordeal, he said, they were warned that another complaint against them would result in "a severe and ultimate punishment."

After 17 months in prison and 70 lashes, Lama was released and flew back to the Philippines on March 28 of this year.

After the executions of Janda and Betran were reported, Filipino Christian inmate Rene H. Camahort sent a letter out of Al-Malaz Prison, confirming the probable motivation for executing Janda.

"He was the one who started Bible studies here," the prisoner wrote on May 20. "As you know, it is prohibited for us Christians to even pray here. Nevertheless, he was not intimidated, despite countless times that he was put in isolation cells."

Camahort went on to state that the prisoners in Section Four were undergoing "a lot of difficult times" and were "all very tense" after the May 4 beheadings. Amnesty International reported on May 23 that 21 executions had been carried out in Saudi Arabia within the previous 26 days.

Imprisoned since August 15, 1995, Camahort worked for a Riyadh travel agency until he was arrested on what he called in his letter "fabricated charges of forgery." Although his one-year prison sentence has long since been served, Camahort was reportedly ordered to pay the 48,000 Rials that he had been accused of swindling from his company, plus a 1,000 Rial court fine, totaling $13,000.

According to Lama, Camahort had come "very close to God" during their many months together in prison. Lama said that once when a prison guard threatened Camahort to stop talking about Christian things in the cell, Camahort replied, "You can even take my head. We will all die, so it doesn't matter, because I know where I stand with God."

"He has also been put in that terrible isolation cell," Lama said of Camahort, "because he has become the spiritual leader of the Christian believers in the cell, taking my place. He became even stronger after I left, fighting for those who became spiritually worn down, and supporting them in their faith," he said.

Married with five children, the 39-year-old Camahort declared in his last letter, "I do not regret my imprisonment nor consider it as a misfortune, because I know why I am here. I have a purpose, and I will serve [Christ] even if it means that I will never go out."

Source: Barbara G. Baker
Compass Direct
Email: [email protected]

This article is published courtesy of Ramon A Williams, The Religious Media Agency. If you would like to contact him, email Ramon A Williams.


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