An American business woman was arrested on February 4 for being in the family section of a Starbucks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with a male colleague. A relative of the woman told the Associated Press that she went to Starbucks to use the internet after being told the connection was down at her office. The woman, known only as “Yara” to protect her family’s identity, was quickly arrested by the Saudi religious police.
According to Telegraph, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice posted a justification of the arrest on its website, saying, “It’s not allowed for any woman to travel alone and sit with a strange man and talk and laugh and drink coffee together like they are married. All of these are against the law and it’s clear it’s against the law. First, for a woman to work with men is against the law and against religion. Second, the family sections at coffee shops and restaurants are meant for families and close relatives.”
Human rights groups say that Yara’s alleged violations of Islamic law do not justify her treatment in the hands of the commission. After more than five hours with the police, Yara was forced to sign a confession saying that she had been in “illegal seclusion with a man who is not her husband,” according to the Associated Press. Telegraph reports that Yara was strip-searched. Yakin Erturk, UN human rights expert, said Yara “was subjected to humiliating an illegal treatment before she was released.”
The Saudi religious police have been criticized for its treatment of women before, in the case of arresting a woman for “witchcraft” earlier this month and for sentencing a rape victim last year to 200 lashes for being alone in a car with a man who was not related to her.