Saudi Arabia flag
Saudi Arabia has sentenced five men to thousands of lashes for celebrating Valentine's DayReuters

Saudi Arabia has sentenced five men to thousands of lashes to be carried out in public over the course of prison sentences because they were caught dancing with women during an alcohol-fuelled Valentine's Day party.

Two defendants were sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes to be given in 20 parts in front of Al Nafoora market, the Okaz daily reported, while two other defendants were handed seven years in prison and 1,500 public lashes, each over 15 parts.

Another defendant was sentenced to five years in jail and 1,000 public lashes.

Earlier this year, Saudi's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - known as the religious police - banned Valentine's Day as part of a strictly imposed code of Sharia law.

The men were arrested alongside six women in a house they had rented for recreational purposes in the city of Burayda, in the capital of Al Qassim region in north central Saudi Arabia. Smuggled bottles of alcohol were seized during the raid, the court in Burayda heard.

Members from the commission also found red roses, candles and heart-shaped items during the raid in February.

They admitted to charges of dancing, illicit relations with the women and celebrating Valentine's Day, the paper reported, and as part of their sentences the men will be banished from their homeland for five years after completing their prison terms.

Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice

Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice
Members of the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or religious police, attend a training courseReuters

The committee is Saudi Arabia's state agency that enforces Sharia law in the country.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, an army of up to 4,000 members roam the country ensuring a strict Islamic code is being observed by men and women.

Members enforce dress codes, separation of men and women, prayer by Muslims and punish other behaviour that they deem to be irresponsible.

The body has been widely criticised for its strict code of practice and in 2002 was criticised for reportedly not allowing 15 young girls out of their burning Mecca school because they were not properly covered.