Bahrain arrested about 200 homosexual men - official; homosexuality not accepted in Gulf Arab region; men held party with cross dressers in conservative village
Bahrain has arrested around 200 men for attending a gay party in the Gulf Arab island state, local newspapers reported on Wednesday.
An official at Bahrain's Ministry of Interior, who asked not to be named, told Reuters the group was arrested last Thursday "due to immoral activities."
Media reports said police in the small conservative town of Muharraq raided a celebration hall filled with cross dressers and male revelers drinking wine and smoking water pipes.
"After entering the room, a secret source said he saw a large group of people from the third sex wearing scandalous female clothing ... and immediately called in the city patrol, which then surrounded the hall and arrested the suspects," the Bahraini newspaper Al-Ayam said.
The men were between 18 and 30 years old and were mostly from Gulf Arab countries and were also believed to have come to Bahrain specifically for the party, the daily said.
The official said foreign nationals were likely among those arrested but could not provide further details, adding the case had been referred to prosecutors. Local newspapers said there was one Syrian and one Lebanese man in the group.
Bahrain is considered among the more liberal Gulf states, with alcohol sold in shops while elsewhere in the Gulf sales are limited to hotels.
Its nightlife attracts weekend visitors from other Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to which Bahrain is linked via a causeway.
Gulf Arab states ban homosexuality, considering it a violation of Islamic values. Homosexual men in the region are regularly arrested and sentenced to prison terms.
"Bahrain has been more tolerant compared to for example the United Arab Emirates, without allowing it to be public," Said Boumedouha, a researcher at human rights group Amnesty International, said. He urged the Bahraini government to free anyone who had been arrested based on his sexual preferences.
A municipal official from Muharraq has called for a crackdown on celebration halls after the incident last weekend, the local paper Gulf Daily News said.
"I know the men had conned the hall's manager into believing they were holding a birthday party," Ramzy al-Jalaleef was quoted as saying. "However, it turned out, as I have heard, they were holding a wedding for two of the men."
Jalaleef told the paper that there should be careful investigation of events being booked in the town, which he said had 29 mosques and was very religious and conservative.
Officials at Bahrain's public prosecution could not be reached for comment.