Yara, en 37 år gammel amerikansk forretningskvinne, ble arrestert av det religiøse politiet i Saudi-Arabia, fordi hun gikk på Starbucks med en mann hun ikke var i familie med. Hun måtte kle av seg og ble ydmyket. Kun hennes innflytelsesrike ektemann reddet henn ut ved hjelp av kontakter.

Det var mange andre kvinner i fengslet som ikke hadde en rik forretningsmann å støtte seg på.

Yara har jordanske foreldre og vokste opp i Salt Lake City. Hun og mannen flyttet til Jeddah for åtte år siden. Yara er manager og deleier i et investeringsselskap i Riyadh. Da strømmen ble borte, gikk hun i ventetiden til Starbucks i nabolaget, sammen med kollegene, som alle er menn.

She sat in a curtained booth with her business partner in the café’s «family» area, the only seats where men and women are allowed to mix.

For Yara, it was a matter of convenience. But in Saudi Arabia, public contact between unrelated men and women is strictly prohibited.

«Some men came up to us with very long beards and white dresses. They asked ‘Why are you here together?’. I explained about the power being out in our office. They got very angry and told me what I was doing was a great sin,» recalled Yara, who wears an abaya and headscarf, like most Saudi women.

Mennene var fra det religiøse sedlighetspolitiet, mutaween, som opererer som et parallelt politi, med vide fullmakter. Det er 10.000 av dem.

Yara, whose parents are Jordanian and grew up in Salt Lake City, once believed that life in Saudi Arabia was becoming more liberal. But on Monday the religious police took her mobile phone, pushed her into a cab and drove her to Malaz prison in Riyadh. She was interrogated, strip-searched and forced to sign and fingerprint a series of confessions pleading guilty to her «crime».

«They took me into a filthy bathroom, full of water and dirt. They made me take off my clothes and squat and they threw my clothes in this slush and made me put them back on,» she said. Eventually she was taken before a judge.

«He said ‘You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell’. I told him I was sorry. I was very submissive. I had given up. I felt hopeless,» she said.

Yara’s husband, Hatim, used his political contacts in Jeddah to track her whereabouts. He was able to secure her release.

«I was lucky. I met other women in that prison who don’t have the connections I did,» she said. Her story has received rare coverage in Saudi Arabia, where the press has been sharply critical of the police.

Religious police in Saudi Arabia arrest mother for sitting with a man