Jordan acknowledged Wednesday that it had expelled foreign Christians for preaching their religion in violation of the law in this predominantly Muslim Arab nation. The announcement by acting Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh is the first official acknowledgment that the government has clamped down on several foreign Christian preachers, including Americans and other Westerners, Koreans and other Asians, as well Arabs like Egyptians and Sudanese. Judeh said the preachers came to Jordan under the "pretext of charitable and voluntary activities, but they have violated the law by undertaking preaching activities and were expelled." Under Jordanian law, the government must sanction preaching and any religious activity, whether Christian or Muslim. "The government was following up their illegal activities as well as the persons involved for a while," Judeh told lawmakers who questioned the government in an open parliamentary session about the rumors. Judeh, who is also a state minister of information, did not provide any numbers or other details. He said that since the deportation, Jordan has come under a fierce "campaign," accusing it of undermining public freedoms. He did not say if there was pressure exerted by the US government on Jordan to stop the deportations. The California-based Compass Direct newsletter, which monitors Christian persecution worldwide, said three weeks ago that Jordan has increased pressure on foreign Christians living in the kingdom, expelling many longtime residents over the past 13 months in what local churches see as an attack on their legitimacy. It said authorities deported or refused residence permits to at least 27 expatriate Christian families and individuals in 2007, a number of them working with local churches or studying at a Christian seminary. Rumors have been rife for some time in Jordanian Christian circles that at least 40 Christian workers had been deported and that their visas had been revoked because of preaching activities. Government officials had long declined to comment and church leaders remained tightlipped. But some followers of the local Baptist Church and the Assemblies of God admitted privately that some of their foreign peers "have been in trouble," declining to go into details. Last week, a Jordanian group comprised of the mainstream Catholic and Orthodox churches broke the silence over the issue, defending the government's actions as in the interests of the state, which was widely interpreted as an attack on the Protestant denominations they accuse of stealing their parishioners. In all save one case, officials refused to provide written explanations for the decisions, but many of those expelled told Compass that they had been questioned by intelligence officers regarding evangelism of Muslims. "They said that I am a threat to Jordanian security and I am making the society unstable," said Hannu Lahtinen, a Finnish pastor deported in December. "They have a thousand ways to say you are preaching the gospel."