Saudi Arabia: Appeal launched for professor facing flogging for meeting woman in cafe

Amnesty International has launched an urgent appeal for a university professor in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to 150 lashes and eight months’ imprisonment for meeting a woman in a coffee shop.

Dr Muhammad 'Ali Abu Raziza, a psychology professor at the University of Um al-Qura in Mecca, is facing the punishment after being found guilty of the Shari’a law offence of “khilwa” - being found alone in the company of a member of the opposite sex who is not an immediate relative.

It appears that Dr 'Ali Abu Raziza believed he was meeting one of his students when he met the woman in January or February this year; instead, he may have been the victim of entrapment by members of Saudi Arabia’s feared religious police. The professor’s case comes after other reports of customers in Saudi Arabia’s coffee shops being detained and harshly treated by the religious police authorities for supposed “moral” offences.

Amnesty International UK Campaign Director Tim Hancock said:

“No-one should face punishment - let alone 150 lashes - simply for meeting a person of the opposite sex.

“We’re urgently calling on the Mecca governor to ensure that neither the flogging or the imprisonment are carried out. If Dr 'Ali Abu Raziza is imprisoned we would most certainly consider him a prisoner of conscience.

“Saudi Arabia should stop needlessly persecuting people like this - we want to see a complete end to people in the kingdom being punished for ‘khilwa’ offences.”

Dr ‘Ali Abu Raziza was originally arrested by officials from the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the religious police) after meeting a young woman in a coffee shop.

On 3 March a court in Mecca imposed the sentence, which was later upheld on appeal by the Mecca Court of Cassation at the end of April. Meanwhile Dr ‘Ali Abu Raziza has been prevented from teaching classes and doing other jobs involving direct contact with members of the public. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the Governor of Mecca Province, is currently deciding whether the sentence will be carried out.

According to press reports, Dr 'Ali Abu Raziza had originally upset officials from the religious police - who were also his students - during an argument in one of his classes. These students also failed to pass their final exams and were said to be angry with Dr 'Ali Abu Raziza. He later received a telephone call from a woman asking him to meet her at a coffee shop to discuss a problem. He was said to have agreed to the meeting on the condition that she brought a male guardian. Upon arrival at the coffee shop, Dr 'Ali Abu Raziza found the woman alone.

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