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Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 12:22 UK

Saudis hold 'cross-dressing men'

Human rights activists are calling on Saudi Arabia to drop charges against 67 men arrested at a party for reportedly wearing women's clothes.

The arrests violate the basic rights of privacy and freedom of expression, according to the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch.

Most of the men detained were Filipinos and the Philippine embassy says they have since been released.

But they face charges of imitating women, and possession of alcohol.

The affair came to light in a Saudi newspaper, al-Riyadh, which said those arrested were celebrating the Independence Day of the Philippines at a private party in the Saudi capital on 13 June.

Police are reported to have made the arrests after spotting "suspicious behaviour".

Further investigation is said to have revealed more women's clothing, cosmetics, and alcohol.

"If the police in Saudi Arabia can arrest people simply because they don't like their clothes, no-one is safe," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Raids

An official at the Philippine embassy said the men were set free after their respective work sponsors put up bail for them, but that charges remain.

Human Rights Watch says the Saudi authorities periodically raid gatherings at which men have allegedly worn female clothing.

It cites an example from 2005, when more than 100 men were arrested for "imitating women" and sentenced to jail terms and flogging.

On that occasion, those convicted were pardoned and released several months after their arrest.



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