Saudi Arabia Takes Steps to Crack Down on Religious Hate Speech

  • Kingdom criticized as promoting intolerant strain of Islam
  • Twitter users referred to public prosecutor for violations

Saudi Arabia summoned a group of Twitter users this week in an effort to crack down on hate speech, the government’s Center for International Communication said.

The Department of Public Prosecution “will now have the powers to charge offenders who are accused of spreading hate speech, creating social conflict and threatening peace and security through social media channels,” the government said in a statement on Monday. The Twitter users were accused of publicizing hate speech, inciting violence and oppressing minorities, it said.

On Sunday, the Department of Public Prosecution had disclosed that a group of Twitter users had been called in but did not disclose details. In a statement, it warned that “any post that contains content harmful to the community” would be referred to the prosecutor.

Derogatory Language

Saudi Arabia has been criticized internationally as promoting an intolerant strain of Sunni Islam. The use of derogatory language to describe minority Shiite Muslims, Jews and Christians is common among some Saudi religious clerics and social media users. One textbook published for this academic year teaches first graders that religions other than Islam are “invalid.”

The government had earlier referred a popular cleric, Ali Al Rabieei, to the copyright infractions committee for “violating the press and publications law,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Information said on Twitter. The government statement on Monday said this was also part of the “crackdown on hate speech.”

Al Rabieei has used demeaning terms such as “rejectionists” to refer to Shiite Muslims and denies that they’re Muslim. He continued to do so after the ministry’s announcement.

The crackdown follows a three-month campaign in the Shiite majority city of Awwamiya in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province that leveled dozens of homes and sent thousands fleeing. The government offered as much as 900 million riyals in compensation to residents who lost homes.

— With assistance by Donna Abu-Nasr, Sarah Algethami, and Abbas Al Lawati

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