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American Woman Boasted of Saudi Freedoms To Bush Brother Before Arrest at Starbucks

ICC Note

“When I was arrested, it was like going through an avalanche,”

By Sonia Verma

Thursday, February 07, 2008 Saudi Arabia (FoxNews.Com)- Two weeks before Yara, an American businesswoman, was arrested by Saudi Arabia’s religious police for sitting with a male colleague at Starbucks, she said she strolled past the very same cafe with another businessman: Neil Bush.

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Yara, who does not want her last name revealed because of safety concerns, is a managing partner at a Saudi financial company. She went to hear Bush speak, and she said she invited him later to tour her company’s offices, to give him a sense of what life was really like for women living in the capital.

“I was boasting about Riyadh , telling him it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation,” she said. “I told him I never experienced any harassment. I’d had no trouble as a woman. It was business as usual.”

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“When I was arrested, it was like going through an avalanche,” she said. “All of my beliefs were completely destroyed.”

Yara’s crime: sitting with a male business partner in the “family-only” section of the Starbucks — the only area of the café where women and men can sit together. In Saudi Arabia , public contact between unrelated men and women is strictly prohibited.

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But on Monday, when the power failed in her company’s offices, Yara and her male colleagues decided to use a nearby Starbucks, which has wireless Internet, as a temporary workspace.

She settled into a booth with a male colleague and opened her laptop. Moments later, she was arrested.

“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,” Yara recalled.

The men were from Saudi Arabia ‘s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a 10,000-strong police force charged with enforcing dress codes, sex segregation and the observance of prayer times.

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Later, she was made to stand before a judge who condemned her behavior, telling her she would “burn in hell.”

She said she spent hours in a filthy prison cell with dozens of other women who had been arrested by the religious police, before her husband used his political connections to secure her release.

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And her family is furious that the American Embassy hasn’t done more to support her.

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Starbucks was waiting to learn more about the facts surrounding the incident, a company spokesman said.

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“The psychological impact is beyond description,” Hatim said. “She’s normally a very calm, stable woman. Now she’s afraid to leave our compound.”

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