Amnesty International has urged Saudi authorities to release a Saudi university professor who is facing flogging and imprisonment for meeting a woman to whom he is not related for coffee in the conservative Islamic kingdom.
Muhammad Ali Abu Raziza, a psychology lecturer at the university of Mecca, has been sentenced to 150 lashes and eight months in jail after the religious police caught him with a woman in a coffee shop, the rights group said in a statement.
Justice ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Saudi Arabia applies an austere form of Islam which bans women from mixing with men to whom they are not related, voting and driving, and punishes men and women found guilty of illegal encounters, known as khilwa offences.
The statement did not say what happened to the woman who was meeting Abu Raziza.
“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,” Amnesty said.
The religious police, known as the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, have wide powers to search for alcohol, drugs and prostitution, ensure shops are closed during prayers in addition to maintaining a strict system of sexual segregation.
Criticism of the force has re-emerged after its members were involved in a series of incidents, which led to the deaths of six people in car chases.