Published on Clarion Project (http://www.clarionproject.org
Saudi Woman Gets 50 Lashes for Insulting Morality Police
A Saudi Arabian businesswoman was sentenced to 50 lashes and one month in prison for insulting the morality police during a raid on her internet café.
When the police entered the café, some of her employees ran away fearing they were in breach of Saudi Arabia’s immigration laws. During the police’s questioning of the woman, an argument ensued. The woman reportedly cursed the police and called them “liars.”
The woman was originally sentenced by a district court in Jedda. An appeals court in Mecca recently upheld the sentence.
The morality police, a force comprised of 3,500 men who work for the government agency called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. They have become a common – and controversial -- intrusion into the lives of Saudi citizens.
Tasked with making sure that citizens comply with the strict dictats of sharia law as interpreted by the extremist Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, the morality police enforce dress codes, including the mandatory wearing of an abaya and face veil for women, and make sure there is no frivolous or seductive behavior on the part of women. They investigate if there is any suspicion of homosexual behavior, prostitution or consumption of alcohol. In addition, they make sure that there is no public practice or proselytizing of any religion other than Islam and enforece the mandatory closing of stores during prayer times.
The morality police also check that any man and woman seen together in public are related to each other. They inspect hotels and their gift shops, restaurants, shopping malls and the like to ensure that no Western items or customs are present in Saudi Arabia. Forbidden items are as diverse as Valentine’s Day cards (since the day is deemed a pagan festival) and Barbie dolls (forbidden for being a symbol of Western decadence).
Instituted in 1926, the morality police have been under harsh scrutiny both domestically and internationally for the undue harassment of Saudi citizens. A number of fatalities have occurred in recent years due to the morality police pursuing citizens in high-speed car chases. Video footage of families in a shopping mall being harassed by the police have gone viral.
Until 2007, members of themorality police were armed with wooden canes to strike violators.
Two years ago, the head of the morality police force was fired by King Abdullah due to his involvement in these controversies. Although the new head of the force promised a different approach, the controversies have continued.
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