by Whatsblem the Pro
Two Saudi Arabian men were arrested yesterday by the mutawa – officers of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – in the city of Riyadh, and charged with “indulging in exotic practices and offending public order.”
Their crime: offering free hugs to random strangers.
The mutawa enforce sharia law, which dictates prayers five times a day, shames and punishes people for “immodest dress,” and maintains heavy restrictions on the activities of women in particular.
Abdulrahman al-Khayyal and his unnamed friend were inspired by a viral video made by another super-huggable Saudi, Bandr al-Swed, whose YouTube video garnered almost 1.5 million views. The video drew al-Khayyal’s attention to the global Free Hugs Campaign. After recruiting his unnamed friend, al-Khayyal led the way to one of Riyadh’s busiest commercial zones and the duo began working the street in front of some of the toniest shops in town, showing a makeshift “FREE HUGS” sign to strangers passing by.
The BBC reports that al-Khayyal and his friend were required to sign a pledge that they would refrain from offering hugs to strangers again.
The mutawa religious police – sometimes called the ‘mutaween’ (and why not?) – have also condemned the use of Twitter, saying that anyone who uses it is “a fool” who “has lost this world and his afterlife.” While that certainly may be true, the religious police organization has been heavily criticized for much more serious mutaweenery: In 2002, when a school caught fire in Mecca while classes were in session, the religious police caused the deaths of fifteen schoolgirls by preventing them from leaving. One witness told the BBC that he saw three of the mutaweener policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya.”
The abaya is a black robe required by sharia law for female modesty in public.
The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the mutaween actively prevented other men from trying to help the girls, telling the would-be rescuers that “it is sinful to approach them.”
According to the father of one of the dead girls, the school watchman refused to open the gates to let the girls out, on orders of the mutawa religious police.