TEL AVIV – A Saudi court sentenced six women and five men to imprisonment and flogging on charges of “obscenity” after they were caught together in a villa in the city of Jedda.
The Jedda Police’s vice squad raided the seaside house following complaints from neighbors. Alcohol and indecent photos were found in the possession of the revelers, some of whom were reportedly drunk and resisted arrest.
The court initially sentenced them to between eight days’ and a year’s imprisonment and 150 lashes, but after an appeal was upheld they were sentenced to between two months and a year’s imprisonment and 300 lashes.
By law, Saudi women are banned from mingling with men to whom they’re not related.
This is the latest setback for women in the country.
Earlier this week, one Starbucks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, made world headlines when it posted a sign declaring, “PLEASE NO ENTRY FOR LADIES ONLY SEND YOUR DRIVER TO ORDER THANK YOU.” The sign was reportedly erected after a barrier inside the coffee house separating families and single people fell down.
In response to public outcry, Starbucks issued the following statement to CNN: “At Starbucks, we adhere to the local customs of Saudi Arabia by providing separate entrances for families as well as single people. In addition, all our stores provide equal amenities, service, menu, and seating to men, women, and families.”
“We are working as quickly as possible as we refurbish our Jarir store so that we may again welcome all customers in accordance with local customs.”
On Monday, Starbucks announced they had solved the problem by refurbishing the wall. The store will still serve drinks to women, who enter from the separate location.
The latest Starbucks statement read:
Starbucks welcomes all customers, including women and families, to enjoy the Starbucks experience. We have worked with local authorities to obtain approval to refurbish one of our stores in Jarir, which was originally built without a gender wall. That meant it could only accommodate men in accordance with local law.
This was the only such Starbucks store in Saudi Arabia. During construction, the store could only accommodate and serve single men, and a poster was placed at the store entrance as required by local law.
The statement went on: “We are pleased to share that the store is now accessible to single men on one side as well as women and families on the other side. Starbucks now has 78 stores in Saudi Arabia and all stores cater to both families and singles, except for one that is exclusively reserved for women and families.”
At the same time, there have been some recent victories for womens’ rights in the kingdom. Last month, the Saudi Tourist Board decided in a landmark case to allow women to stay in hotels without a male companion.
Saudi women will no longer be required to check in with a “legitimate” male relative – that is, their husband, father, or brother. The board insisted that the decision will be implemented in keeping with Sharia law.
In December, women were granted the right to vote and run in local elections in the country.