October 31, 2018 / 6:57 PM / a month ago

Saudis release Filipina cleaners held after police raid on Halloween party

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has released 19 Filipina women detained in a raid on a Halloween party in Riyadh, a senior diplomat said on Wednesday, which the authorities said was prompted by complaints of loud music and frightening costumes.

Online videos which posters said were filmed at the event held at a rented resort over the weekend show attendees wearing costumes and dancing to loud music. The footage, which Reuters could not independently verify, also showed police vehicles with flashing lights.

The Saudi General Directorate for Public Security tweeted on Saturday that the party’s organisers were arrested for charging an entrance fee without a license, in addition to “disturbing residents, order violations from some attendees, and striking fear in residents by using masks, strange clothes, and firecrackers.”

Christopher Patrick Aro, Consul General for the Philippines in Saudi Arabia, told Reuters the Filipina women had been hired as cleaners for the party at a resort in Riyadh’s al-Thumama district and were not wearing costumes. They could face charges over violation of labour regulations, he said.

Celebrating Halloween, along with Christmas and other holidays common in many countries, is forbidden in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, though in practice many foreigners and some Saudis observe such occasions and also drink alcohol in private despite it being illegal.

Some clerics see Halloween as a form of devil worship and too closely associated with Western culture.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms aimed at loosening Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, notably by easing restrictions on gender mixing in public places and clipping the wings of the religious police who had enforced draconian norms for years.

But red lines still exist.

Four men, including one Saudi, were also held, Aro said. It was unclear if the men had also been released.

The Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

Hundreds of people attended the party, participants told Reuters. One woman said all were female apart from the organisers and DJs. She said she did not see any alcohol or anything else improper, and the area around the venue was not densely populated.

The police raided at least two Western compounds in the Saudi capital last week, apparently searching for alcohol and illegal workers, diplomats said.

Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir, Editing by Stephen Kalin and Alexandra Hudson

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