A NIGERIAN convert to Islam who took his sick neighbour to hospital has been jailed in Saudi Arabia because he was not related to the elderly woman.
Ibrahim Mohammad Lawal was convicted of immoral behaviour by religious police who enforce the state's strict code banning women from mixing with men other than relatives.
His "charitable act... has landed him 50 days and counting behind bars", Arab News, an English language daily, said.
Its officers wear long beards, loose headscarves and white robes and carry sticks. They patrol public places to ensure women are covered, the sexes do not mingle and that shops close five times a day for prayers. They also enforce bans on drugs, alcohol and prostitution.
Lawal, an Islamic studies student in Riyadh, took his 63-year-old neighbour to hospital after discovering she needed medical attention. When she returned home he wanted to check on her progress and was admitted to her apartment where she was with three female relatives.
Five members of the force, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, barged in and took him into custody, he said.
"They accused me of being alone with the woman unrelated to me and suspected my intention," Lawal said. "I wanted to do a good thing for a woman who was sick and this is what I get. I'm languishing in prison."
In one case last month, a court acquitted three religious policemen of the death of a man in their custody. The victim, a retired border patrol guard in his fifties, was arrested in the city of Tabuk for being alone with a woman who was not a relative.
Another case involves the death of a 28-year-old man, Salman Al-Huraisy, who was allegedly beaten in the custody of the religious police after they raided his Riyadh home, where they suspected he had alcohol.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based pressure group, said government officials had tried to "whitewash" the investigation into his death.
In a third case, a 50-year-old Saudi mother of five has filed a lawsuit against the religious police. She claims two of its members threw her driver out of her car and subjected her and her daughter to a terrifying ride of more than an hour before abandoning them.
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