RIYADH -- Saudi Arabia's religious police detained and strip-searched a woman for sitting in a Starbucks coffeeshop with a male work colleague who is not a member of her family, Arab News reported on Tuesday.
The 40-year-old financial consultant, named only as Yara, told the paper she was arrested on Monday by members of the powerful Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
She was holding a business meeting with the man in a branch of Starbucks in Riyadh, in a section reserved for families as is the rule in Saudi Arabia where unrelated members of the opposite sex are segregated in public, she said.
Yara said she was taken to a Riyadh prison, strip-searched and forced to sign a confession to having been caught alone with a unrelated man -- an illegal act in the kingdom which enforces a strict Islamic moral code.
"I had no other choice" but to sign, said the married mother of three. "I was scared for my life... I was afraid that they would abuse me or do something to me."
She said the religious police, known as the Muttawa, released her several hours later after her husband, Hatim, intervened. "I look at this as if she had been kidnapped by thugs," said Hatim.
The paper said the man with whom Yara had coffee, an unnamed Syrian financial analyst, was also arrested and remains in custody.
Saudi Arabia's 5,000-strong religious police have been investigated over a number of deaths that occurred while they raided homes or kept people in custody.
The interior ministry issued a decree in May 2006 aimed at reining in the Muttawa by requiring them not to interrogate detained suspects, as they had previously done, but to hand them over to the regular police instead.
A United Nations report released on Friday said that women in the conservative Muslim state are the victims of systematic and pervasive discrimination across all aspects of social life.