Locked Up Abroad Travel Tips: Saudi Arabia

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. 


  1. J
    June 11, 2012, 12:15 pm

    When this man went to Saudi I was in Iraq. We had a no sex policy and almost everyone in my platoon went one year with no sex, and we were finding bombs and getting into gunfights everyday. It is not impossible to go an extended period of time celibate, it sucks but it can be done. This guy just has no will power or self control. This was not a locked up abroad rather more of a spend the night in jail abroad.

  2. Locked Up Addict
    June 13, 2012, 6:09 pm

    I completely agree with J. This wasn’t truly “Locked Up Abroad” – it was more like “Inconvenienced for Several Hours Abroad”. This guy had a PC – for the life of me I can’t believe he didn’t peruse Wikipedia before he took this assignment. Did he even think of talking to other gay men about the Middle East before he decided to chase the money? No self control and woefully naive – I have no sympathy for this man.

  3. d
    April 15, 2013, 12:28 am

    I must agree with the first comments. Being gay, you have to research the country you intend to visit. Many middle eastern and Asian countries are not gay friendly. If he had a laptop, he should have done his homework prior to agreeing to taking the job. I dont have sympathy for this person’s ordeal. He brought what little distress upon himself. Hope he’s a bit more realistic after his experiences.

  4. Stephen Toland
    November 9, 2014, 3:10 pm

    I’ve seen this episode. The mane was thousands of miles away from his family and friends and had no one to help with guidance, because he was seperated from his friend with whom he had taken the job upon arrival by the orginisers of his contract. He had absoutly no one in the world to talk to, wouldn’t you want to be with someone to help you through? In addition, he was married heterosexually before he arrived because he felt that was the correct thing to do; and so had never experimented with his sexuality. So until you’re in this situation and are absolutely perfect, don’t judge. Because one bad decision leads to another, and it can – and in this case did – overwhelm you.

  5. JPL
    December 24, 2016, 12:45 pm

    I have worked in the gulf and went to Saudi many times on business. I think this guy sold lies for money. Yes someone could end up in jail for homosexuality, yes they have psycho religious police, yes they have a mentality of the 1400s, and many other issues in that messed up place. But his story is a bunch of lies. All the things he mentioned in the story (party in prince palace, gay underground life, arrests by religious police etc. etc.) do happen but the way he describes it it does NOT sound a true story. I guess he got himself in debt again and sold a story to get some money.