On the surface, Saudi Arabia’s social climate appears thick with oppression. There is a strict observance of Wahhabi rules of moral and social behavior, and varied interpretations of Sharia law are applied to everyone in Saudi Arabia, regardless of your religion. It is strictly enforced by the Mutaween, the religious police. Most of what westernized nations take for granted, like public courtship and alcohol consumption, are criminal offenses in Saudi Arabia, and those who break the law suffer severe punishments and even death sentences.
Stephen Comiskey didn’t know much about the country when he took his nursing job, and he was surprised to discover homosexuality was a crime. Being gay, he faced a possible death sentence if caught by the Mutaween. Due to financial strife, he took the job anyway thinking he could remain celibate until his contract ended. “I was naïve to think that I was gonna go to a country and be celibate,” Stephen recalled. “I was in a big river called denial. I had my head buried right in the sand.”
Yet the harsh laws haven’t stopped some people from engaging in illegal relationships or illicit activities. According to WikiLeaks, the royal princes throw lavish parties in their palaces, usually in basement bars, discos and clubs. They have created a thriving scene where alcohol, drugs and sex abound. And because they’re royalty, the Mutaween stay away.
Since there are over 10,000 Saudi princes, it isn’t too difficult to obtain a party invitation. Stephen found out about a party through a friend. When he arrived at the palace, he couldn’t believe what he saw. Islamic taboos were being broken without a care in the world. Inside the palace walls, everyone was protected by the prince’s body guards. That night turned out to be the turning point encouraging Stephen to seek human companionship regardless of consequences.
Of course, Stephen couldn’t expect an invitation whenever he needed one. He had to find alternative means to meet people, so he learned how to bypass Internet security using a VPN network. This gained him access to banned social networking sites to plan dates with other men in the privacy of his home.
Stephen found success fulfilling his desire for human contact, but the lingering fear—being tipped off to the Mutaween—always remained. He put himself in a risky situation, and eventually his luck ran out. If you’re thinking about traveling to Saudi Arabia or any other country where your natural tendencies conflict with the law, it might be a good idea to consider Stephen’s case and ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”
- Do your research. Always do your research prior to leaving for a destination outside your comfort zone.
- Be realistic. Can you really promise that you refrain from the sexual acts that are illegal in that place? If not, don’t tempt yourself.
- Remain Vigilant. Stephen witnessed several people who appeared unconcerned about the strict laws. Even though he had concerns, their behavior deluded him into thinking there would be no consequences for his actions. He let down his guard and began to push his luck.
- Trust good advice. Stephen was told not to date Saudi men, because they were prone to turning in their lovers to the Mutaween. Stephen dated one anyway, and it led to his downfall.
- Translate. Don’t sign your name to a legal document you cannot understand. This is easier said than done considering the possibility of being tortured into signing something, but hold your ground as long as you don’t physical and emotional harm.
- Get Help. If you’re ever involved in a criminal case in a foreign country, get ahold of your embassy or consulate immediately.
Tune in to Locked Up Abroad: Dangerous Liaisons tonight at 10P et/pt.