The man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter account told the Washington Blade that a gay friend said officers arrested the men — who were all under 20 — at a Starbucks on Riyadh’s King Abdullah Road on Oct. 13.
Agents with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — the so-called “religious police” that enforces Sharia law in Saudi Arabia — were reportedly with the officers when they arrested the three men between 10 p.m. and midnight.
“[This is the] busiest time for restaurants and cafes in Riyadh, considering that the weekend there is Fridays and Saturdays,” said the man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter account, who has previously asked the Blade not to publish his name.
He said the officers arrested the three men because Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice agents are “no longer allowed to make arrests.” The man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter account told the Blade on Tuesday that authorities released the men “shortly after” they were arrested.
Saudi law bans men from behaving ‘like women’
The State Department’s 2015 human rights report notes it is illegal in Saudi Arabia for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothing.
Media reports indicate that authorities in Taif, a city that is roughly 470 miles south-southwest of Riyadh, arrested a man in late 2015 who was wearing an abaya, a black cloak that women in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries wear, at a shopping mall.
Police and agents with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in 2014 arrested 35 gay men — many of whom were wearing women’s clothing — at a party in the city of Jiddah on the Red Sea.
The man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter page told the Blade that such raids are “not uncommon.” He said the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice directs the police to carry them out in order to “send a message.”
Saudi Arabia is among the handful of countries in which homosexuality remains punishable by death.
“The dangerous thing about these raids is that they are completely unexpected and random, and there are no way to know who will be arrested,” said the man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter page. “Usually the ‘gayer’ you look the more likely you are to be arrested. But you can be arrested for just looking at the religious police funny or filming them. It is completely random.”
He told the Blade that those who are arrested in such raids could face “humiliation, torture or even sexual abuse.”
Neither the Saudi government nor Starbucks have returned requests for comment.