Nineteen Filipina women were reportedly arrested and detained on Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after local officials raided a Halloween party at a private compound, apparently in response to a noise complaint. The women, who were temporarily released from custody on Tuesday according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, could potentially face charges for violating the country’s Sharia law, which bars single men and women from interacting with each other in public.
Citing a Facebook post by Humoud Al Fajrawi, The Philippine Star reported that the “secret” Halloween party had been organized over social media — which, according to Fajrawi, is also “forbidden” — and that many people had attended the party unaware that it was a Halloween celebration. The public celebration of non-Islamic holidays is banned in Saudi Arabia.
The Philippine ambassador in Riyadh, Adnan Alonto, has since issued a warning to Filipinos living in the conservative Islamic kingdom to “refrain from organizing or attending events or gatherings that are unsanctioned or without permission” and “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.” In a 2018 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that Saudi religious police frequently targeted “private non-Muslim religious gatherings organized by expatriate workers and arrested or deported participants,” but that the number of such cases had reduced in recent years after the powers of the religious police were limited by a 2016 royal decree. According to the U.N., expatriates make up more than a third of Saudi Arabia’s total residents.