June 11, 2012

OTTAWA – A call by an influential Saudi Sheikh to destroy all churches on the Arabian Peninsula has led the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' (CCCB) human rights committee to express concern to the government of Saudi Arabia.

In a May 30 letter to Saudi Ambassador Osamah Al Sanosi Ahmad, the committee's chairman, Saint-Hyacinthe Bishop François Lapierre, referred to a March 12 statement by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who said: "only one religion," Islam, "should exist in the Arabian Peninsula," and added "it is necessary to destroy all churches in the region."

This statement preceded an April 12 ban in Kuwait of any new church construction and the passing of a blasphemy law that could bring the death penalty for critics of Islam or its prophet.

"Although this was widely circulated by news agencies more than two months ago, there have been no reports yet indicating that Saudi Arabian authorities have since corrected or denounced this call to religious violence," Lapierre wrote.

He cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which protects religious freedom.

In an interview, Lapierre pointed out the sheikh, who has been described as Saudi Arabia's "supreme religious official" in news reports, is highly influential in the region.

"He is not a small, radical imam. He is an important person," said Lapierre.