SAUDI Arabian authorities arrested 19 female Filipino workers who were among dozens detained for taking part in a Halloween party in the deeply conservative Islamic country late last week.
The Philippines foreign ministry confirmed the arrests on Tuesday, citing information from the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh which said the women were detained at the Al Nisa Jail in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
According to the BBC, the women were arrested by intelligence officers who raided a private compound in Riyadh last Friday, following complaints by neighbours about the noise.
Despite the arrests, the Filipino authorities did not know what charges the women are facing, but Filipino ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto said initial information he received showed that the organisers were to be charged with organising the event without a permit and for causing disturbance in the neighbourhood.
Saudi laws prohibit unrelated men and women from socialising in public.
The envoy also issued an advisory on Sunday to remind the Filipino community in the Gulf state to “refrain from organising or attending events or gatherings that are unsanctioned or without permission (of the authorities)”.
The majority Muslim country, which practices strict Shariah laws, also prohibits adherents of other religions from practicing their faith openly.
“In addition, everyone is reminded to avoid mixed crowds, consuming liquor, and holding public practice of traditions that are associated with religions other than Islam, such as Halloween, Valentines and Christmas.”
According to the Philippine News Agency, Alonto said Saudi Chief Prosecutor Khalid Al Hozaimi provided the names of the 19 women who are currently detained at the Al Nisa jail agreed to turn them over to the custody of the Embassy.
The release, Alonto said, was made possible due to strong diplomatic ties between the Embassy and the Saudi authorities.
A Halloween party has been raided in Saudi Capital Riyadh by local police, no words on arrests pic.twitter.com/UAD5uCZUrp
— Khalid khi (@khalid_pk) October 27, 2018
He added the women could face charges for violating the Shariah law.
In recent years Saudi religious police officers “raided private non-Muslim religious gatherings organized by expatriate workers and arrested or deported participants, especially when the gatherings were loud or involved large numbers of people or symbols visible from outside the building”, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2018 report.
Harassment and raids, however, have decreased since 2016 following the government’s move to limit the powers of religious police through a royal decree.
The commission’s report said foreign workers from Africa and Southeast Asia have also been detained by religious police on allegations of witchcraft by their employers and disrupting Saudi society by dividing families and committing blasphemy.
Foreign workers make up for nearly 40 percent of the population in Saudi Arabia, according to UN estimates and while exact figures were not available, roughly two million of them are non-Muslims.