Unconfirmed reports of a new decree imposing the death penalty on anyone caught smuggling Bibles into Saudi Arabia has many Christian ministries and support groups on edge.

Practicing any religion other than Islam has long been illegal in the desert kingdom, and that includes rules against foreigners bringing in any type of religious material that does not conform to the royal family’s strict Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam. Foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia are often detained for purely religious reasons, sometimes resulting in deportation.

But applying capital punishment, which in Saudi Arabia often means death by beheading, to Bible smugglers would signal a new level of persecution even for the Saudis.

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