- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Thirty-one men arrested at a party for homosexuals last week are scheduled to be released today after what appears to have been a bungled police raid.

The online Saudi newspaper Al-Wifak first reported that 108 mostly Saudi men had been arrested at a “gay wedding” on March 10. Seventy-seven of the men used influential connections over the following days to win their release.

A friend of four of the arrested men told The Washington Times that the event was not a “wedding” — which would have been particularly shocking in the conservative kingdom — but a birthday party.

“There was no wedding. They were not drinking alcohol or using drugs; they were just dancing and having fun,” said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“My friends told me that plainclothes policemen and special-forces soldiers with weapons raided the party and arrested everyone present. They were really frightened by this overwhelming show of force,” he said.

He noted that security forces a few days earlier had clashed with suspected terrorists not far from the villa where the party was held, and speculated that the police may have thought they were raiding a terrorist hide-out.

Thirty-three of the arrested men appeared last week before a judge, who reportedly was annoyed when police could not satisfactorily explain why the other men had been released.

Both regular police and the mutawwa (religious police) regularly raid homosexual gatherings in the kingdom, where homosexuality is illegal and is often punished by flogging and prison terms.

According to a Western diplomatic source, three French diplomats were scooped up in a Jan. 13 raid on a homosexual party and have since left the country after claiming diplomatic immunity.

Although there is the death penalty for homosexual acts under Shariah, or Islamic law, it is seldom enforced owing to the requirement that four male, adult witnesses must testify that they saw the homosexual act.

Bakr Bagader, a member of the National Society for Human Rights in Jidda, said that his group would be willing in theory to help those arrested on March 10, depending on the circumstances of the incident.

“If it was a gay ‘wedding’ party, that is far too progressive for us because … we have taboos against this, especially religious ones,” Mr. Bagader said in an interview.

Although Saudi society by and large remains extremely conservative and religious, many Saudi homosexuals say there has been a growth in the number of younger homosexual men, and that the new generation feels freer to experiment with their sexuality.

“Their families can’t control them,” said the friend of the arrested men. “They take what they like from the West and don’t think much about the consequences.”

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