Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians face deportation from Saudi Arabia for “illicit mingling,” the global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
Police reportedly raided a private prayer meeting in the second city of Jeddah over the run-up to Christmas, celebrated by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on January 7, according to Al Jazeera.
The group – which included 29 women – were arrested on December 15, with the women subjected to strip searches and the men beaten and denounced as “unbelievers”, according to HRW, which is based in New York.
The rights body spoke by telephone to a man and two women from the prisons where they are being held, the BBC reported.
Those who were taken to court have been told they are being charged with “illicit mingling” of unmarried persons of the opposite sex, according to the AFP. HRW says that “illicit mingling” is not defined in any Saudi law.
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Men and women are not allowed to mix in public, but are normally left alone in private unless they are doing so for “the purpose of corruption.” Saudi Arabia’s government promised to stay out of private non-Muslim worshipping events in 2006.
HRW has called on the Saudi authorities to release the Ethiopians “immediately if there is no evidence to charge them with offences that are recognisably criminal under international norms.” It has also urged the government to investigate allegations of “physical and sexual abuse.”
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