Sunday, May 29, 2016

The religious police in Saudi Arabia

Published on Jun 6, 2013

Saudi Arabia has released prominent novelist Turki al-Hamad, who was arrested in December after a series of tweets criticising Islamism and saying Islam needed renewal, an activist said.

"He is in his house now in Riyadh," said Waleed Abu al-Khair, a lawyer and human rights activist in the conservative Islamic kingdom, where criticism of the Muslim faith, or senior members of the clergy and ruling family, is not tolerated.

Hamad, one of Saudi Arabia's best known liberal thinkers, was not tried during his six months in jail, Abu al-Khair said on Wednesday.

Before his detention he wrote tweets that likened some ultra-conservatives to Nazis and called for a renewal of Islam.

The Justice Ministry was not immediately able to comment on Hamad's release or the reasons for his detention. Hamad's mobile telephone remained switched off on Wednesday.

Last year Saudi Arabia imprisoned a young blogger, Hamza Kashgari, on blasphemy charges after he published tweets that imagined a conversation with the Prophet Mohammad. Kashgari remains behind bars.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to the faith's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, practises Islamic law, allowing judges to pass verdicts and sentences based on their interpretation of religious and legal texts.

Blasphemy is illegal, as is leaving the Islamic faith.

Morality police patrol public areas to ensure strict religious norms, including modest dress, are observed, while the public practise of other religions is forbidden.

Published on Nov 21, 2013

Two men have been arrested in Saudi Arabia for offering free hugs to passers-by in the capital, Riyadh.

The Saudi religious police detained the two young men for indulging in exotic practices and offending public order.

The free hugs movement aims to "brighten up" people's lives by offering strangers hugs.

A young Saudi man, Bandr al-Swed, posted a video of himself offering hugs to male strangers on YouTube, where it has received nearly 1.5m views.

"After seeing the Free Hugs Campaign in many different countries, I decided to do it in my own country," Mr Swed told al-Arabiya news.

"I liked the idea and thought it could bring happiness to Saudi Arabia."

Britain's Independent newspaper reports that his video inspired two more young Saudis, Abdulrahman al-Khayyal and a friend.

They offered hugs, advertised on a placard, in one of Riyadh's main shopping streets.

They were subsequently arrested by the kingdom's religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which is charged with ensuring that sharia law is strictly adhered to.

The two were required to sign a pledge that they would not offer hugs again, reports say.

The duties of Saudi Arabia's religious police, or mutawa, include preventing women driving, enforcing modest dress codes, policing bans on public entertainment and making sure all businesses close for prayers five times a day.

Some in the kingdom find the mutawa's powers an interference in their lives.

The religious police attracted criticism for their role in a 2002 fire at a school in Mecca in which 15 girls died. The police were accused of trying to keep the girls inside the burning building because they were not wearing the proper black robes required of Saudi females.

January 5

Saudi pilot arrested in the US for raping a boy

A Saudi Arabian military officer has been charged with raping a boy in a hotel on New Year's Eve. The 23-year-old sergeant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, Mazen Alotaibi was arrested on New Years eve in Nevada and accused of assaulting a 13-year-old boy in a Circus Circus hotel bathroom, while three other men were in the adjoining room smoking marijuana. According to the police report, Alotaibi said he offered to pay for sex but raped the boy when he refused. The accused was in the US for a training mission.

Published: 28 December, 2012, 12:05

The religious police in Saudi Arabia have raided a house in the Al Jawf Province and arrested 41 people, who were “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” a police statement said.

­The police said that the detainees were Christian guests of an Asian diplomat, reports the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

There were also a Saudi Arabian and an Egyptian, both Muslims, present at the gathering. The police account says the host and the two Muslim guests were “severely intoxicated.”

It is unclear whether or not the people detained in the Wednesday night raid were released or face further prosecution.

Saudi Arabia outlaws any religious practice except those in line with a strict version of Sunni Islam, the state religion in the theocratic monarchy. The authorities usually turn a blind eye to private ceremonies, but this policy is neither set in law nor observed at all times.

The “virtue and vice” police, which enforce religious norms in the country, regularly launch crackdowns on Christians and Hindus living in Saudi Arabia.

The attitude is encouraged by religious leaders, who justify the persecutions. Saudi Arabia's head mufti Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Abdullah had previously condemned “invitations to Christmas or wedding celebrations,” the newspaper says.

Hamza Kashgari's tweets on the prophet Muhammad's birthday have resulted in charges of blasphemy, apostasy, and atheism – and Saudi Arabia appears to be making an example of his actions.

By Elizabeth Dickinson, Correspondent / February 14, 2012

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

As dawn rose over Saudi Arabia on Feb. 4, the Muslim holiday marking the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, a 23-year-old business administration graduate named Hamza Kashgari posted three tweets in which he imagined himself speaking directly with the founder of Islam.

"On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of
divinity around you," read his first tweet, translated here from the original Arabic. "I shall not pray for you."

One of Mr. Kashgari’s friends noticed the tweets when he woke up. As he rushed off to work, he said to himself, “I’m afraid for him,” he recalls.

By the time the friend ended his shift, he switched on his phone to find thousands of Twitter users calling for Kashgari's execution. Furious at what they saw as insulting the prophet Mohammad, critics also created a Facebook page called: “The Saudi people want the execution of Hamza Kashgari.” The next day, a famous Islamic activist, Sheikh Nasir al-Omar, used his daily YouTube lesson – watched by thousands online – to call Kashgari a blasphemer.

Kashgari’s friends sent him a short message: Run.

He fled, but only got as far as Malaysia before being deported back home to face charges of blasphemy, apostasy, and atheism – charges that carry a death sentence in Saudi jurisprudence. But Kashgari's trials are not just about three phrases of 140 characters or less. They stem from broader tensions in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the monarchy has in recent years pushed back on the more conservative religious establishment but is now – in the wake of Arab revolts around the region – anxious to shore up support.

"Certainly since the upheavals, there’s been even more concern on the part of the regime to appeal to religious constituencies," says political scientist F. Gregory Gause, author of "Saudi Arabia in the New Middle East."

Kashgari was an easy target, says Pascal Menoret, professor of Middle East Studies at New York University Abu Dhabi.

“This is a very characteristic story of repression in Saudi,” says Professor Menoret, author of The Saudi Enigma: A History. “Get rid of a young man – it’s costless, and everybody’s scared.”
A willingness to push against limits

Kashgari’s friend described him as someone who was always walking close to the edge. Several years ago, he started attending meetings of intellectuals in the city who gathered to read and discuss religion and philosophy. Not long after, he became a columnist for the local paper Al Bilad, where his writing was sometimes critical of the government. He criticized flood relief when his city of Jeddah was overrun with water last year; he raised questions about the religious police.

His prominent role as a commentator got him invitations to a number of social forums, including the Saudi Intellectuals Forum sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. “We were talking to him, and we told him, ‘Kashgari you are [a] known, famous person,’ the friend recalled. " 'Be careful with what you are writing.’ I remember the look in his face when one of my friends told him that: He [was] staring at the wall, like he doesn’t want to accept this fact [that he could be in danger.]”

His tweets on the prophet's birthday were not new ideas; he had shared them before on his blog. But when he sparked public uproar this time when he wrote, "On your birthday, I shall not bow to you," according to a translation by Menoret. "I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more."

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