The arrest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) of 67 Filipinos and several others for dressing like women was a clear violation of a person’s right to privacy and freedom of expression, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
A human rights group has criticized the recent arrest of 67 Filipinos and other party goers for dressing up as women in Saudi Arabia as a violation of a person’s right to privacy and freedom of expression.
Rasha Moumneh, the Middle East and North Africa division researcher of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "If the police in Saudi Arabia can arrest people simply because they don't like their clothes, no one is safe."
At the same time, Filipino gay rights activist Danton Remoto urged Filipinos in the conservative Muslim country to be "more discreet."
“You went to Saudi Arabia, you were told the rules, you have to follow them," said Remoto, who heads the advocacy group Ladlad.
Vice Consul Roussel Reyes of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh told GMANews.TV that the men were rounded up in a Philippine Independence Day “gay pageant" at a private villa on June 12.
The open display of homosexual behavior is strictly prohibited under Saudi Arabian law. In extreme cases, such as when the government feels that homosexuals are challenging state authority, the maximum punishment for the act is public execution.
The 67 Filipinos and their guests were released after three days.
Reyes said arresting officers, who were tipped off by someone who complained of the noise from the villa, found the Filipinos wearing wigs and women’s clothes and imbibing alcoholic beverages, which is also a crime in Saudi Arabia.
The HRW urged Saudi authorities to drop the charges against the 67 Filipinos and release other prisoners they are still holding because of ‘gay’ behavior.
“How persons choose to dress and present themselves is integral to their free expression and privacy," HRW said. “These rights are set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reflects customary international law."
‘You were warned’
But not everyone in the human rights community shares HRW’s sentiments.
The gay activist Remoto said the arrested Filipinos should have known the consequences of their behavior.
Although he thinks the arrest was uncalled for, he said the Filipinos were given enough warning before they went to Saudi Arabia. “In Saudi Arabia, gay men have to be discreet," Remoto told GMANews.TV.
All outbound Filipino workers undergo a Pre-Deployment Orientation Seminar to acquaint them with the laws and cultural norms of other countries.
The 67 Filipinos still face charges of homosexual behavior and possession of alcoholic beverages in a Saudi court. Vice Consul Reyes said they have been blacklisted by Immigration authorities and are not allowed to leave the kingdom until the case is resolved.
Normally, authorities impose other punishment such as fines, imprisonment, and whipping for similar offenses. Individuals caught wearing even just one article of women’s clothing could face three to six months imprisonment, and suffer between 50 and 100 lashes with a rattan stick. - Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews.TV