A man faces trial in Saudi Arabia after he was caught wearing women’s clothes in a public place.
The unnamed man, in his 20s, was reportedly roaming around a mall in the city of Taef wearing an abaya – a traditional garb worn by Muslim women. But after a visitor grew suspicious of his appearance and followed him, it was discovered the person inside the black coverall was, in fact, a man.
The shopper immediately reported the Saudi morality police – the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – who promptly escorted the man out and arrested him. He now faces a 6-month prison sentence or a public flogging.
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Cross-dressing is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries including Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar which is considered immoral according to Islamic law.
Dozens of people have been arrested over the past several years over their choice of clothing, which is a violation of free expression and an individual’s right to privacy, according to Human Rights Watch.
The most notable case in this regard emerged in March 2005 when over 100 men were arrested for “imitating women” at a private party held in a rented hall in Jeddah. They were sentenced to imprisonment and flogging but in July of that year, but all those convicted were pardoned after human rights activists lobbied for their release.
"If the police in Saudi Arabia can arrest people simply because they don't like their clothes, no one is safe," Rasha Moumneh, researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division of HRW, stated in 2009. “Arresting and charging people simply because the police decide that their appearance is unacceptable strikes at the heart of human freedom.”