A 24-year-old man in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 450 lashes and three years in prison after admitting using his mobile phone to send tweets in the hope of meeting other gay men, Saudi newspapers and websites report.

The man posted several messages on Twitter and also posted several "immoral" photographs. Saudi Arabia's religious police - the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - used an undercover agent to apprehend the man. His 450 lashes will be administered in 15 sessions.

Saudi Arabia\'s King Abdullah
Saudi Arabia\'s King Abdullah Reuters

Flogging is commonly employed in the country on both men and women - and even children in some cases. A thick bamboo cane is used and often the victim is tied up so they cannot run away. Although rarely fatal, flogging can leave lifelong scars - both physical and psychological.

Saudi Arabia is governed under a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and homosexuality is illegal in the country, as it is in the neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Qatar - due to host the 2022 World Cup Finals. Any man convicted of same-sex intercourse can also face life imprisonment or death by beheading and crucifixion under strict Sharia law.

Two years ago the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice published new guidelines barring homosexuals, "emos" and masculine women from schools: "Instructions have been issued to all public schools and universities to ban the entry of gays and tomboys and to intensify their efforts to fight this phenomenon, which has been promoted by some websites." The Commission also bans Western evils such as Valentine's Day, Barbie Dolls and the sale of dogs and cats.

Ironically, the country's laws forbidding the sexes to mingle in public is believed to encourage Luwat (homosexual intercourse) because it is far easier to meet people of the same sex. Some areas of cities like Jeddah and Riyadh are said to have a number of "cruising areas" and gay-friendly discos and coffee bars. However in 2002 three men were said to have been beheaded in the country for homosexuality.