Iran has suspended pilgrimage flights to Saudi Arabia after protests in Tehran on Saturday, which were triggered by reports that two Iranian boys were sexually assaulted during a trip to Mecca.
The alleged attack took place at Jeddah airport in March. The boys, 14 and 15, were reportedly taken away from their families because of “security suspicions,” strip searched and subjected to sexual abuse, Iranian news channels report.
“Until these guilty people are put on trial and punished, the Umrah (pilgrimages) will be stopped and Iranian flights will be suspended,” the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati as saying on Monday.
“The public dignity of Iranian nation has been damaged given what has happened. A public demand has been formed and a reaction is needed.”
Reports of the assaults triggered several hundred protesters to march on the Saudi embassy in Tehran on Saturday, despite public demonstrations being banned in Iran.
“…We have spoken to Saudi officials through diplomatic channels and they have promised to punish the persons in custody… They even asserted that they would execute them but nothing has been done in reality so far,” said Jannati.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said today: “Immediately after being informed of the immoral act, the Iranian Foreign Ministry followed up on the matter with seriousness and our colleagues in Jeddah arrived at the city’s airport after being notified, and investigated the matter with senior airport authorities in attendance.”
Some 500,000 Iranians undertake pilgrimages to Saudi each year. The move is likely to intensify animosity between the dominant Shia and Sunni rivals who are already embroiled in two proxy wars in Yemen and Syria.