Saudi Arabia has arrested more than 200 people for violating “public decency” — including by wearing immodest clothing — and “harassment”, police said, in the first such crackdown since the ultra-conservative kingdom began easing social norms.
Some 120 men and women have been arrested over the past week for offending public morals, including wearing “inappropriate clothes”, Riyadh police said in a series of statements on Twitter since Tuesday. It added that unspecified penalties were imposed on the violators.
Another 88 people were arrested in various harassment cases, police have added in separate statements, after several women complained on social media that they were harassed at the MDL Beast music festival in Riyadh earlier this month.
The electronic music festival, which drew tens of thousands of fans, was billed by organisers as the biggest ever to be hosted in the kingdom. Police did not offer any further details, including the duration of the detentions.
This marked the first such mass crackdown since de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed-bin-Salman began easing social restrictions in the ultra-conservative kingdom, lifting decades-long bans on cinemas and women drivers while allowing gender-mixed concerts and sporting extravaganzas.
The relaxed social norms have been welcomed by many Saudis, two-thirds of whom are under 30. But in September, Saudi Arabia said it would penalise violations of “public decency”, including wearing immodest clothing and public displays of affection, after the austere kingdom began issuing tourist visas for the first time.
Men and women must avoid “tight-fitting clothing” or clothes with “profane language or images”, read an instruction on an English language website launched by the tourism authority.
“Women should cover shoulders and knees in public,” it added. The public decency guidelines, first approved by cabinet in April, are widely perceived to be vague and have sparked public concern that they would be open to interpretation.
They have also stoked fears of a revival of morality policing. Saudi Arabia’s religious police once elicited widespread fear, chasing men and women out of malls to pray and berating anyone seen mingling with the opposite sex. But the enforcers of public morality, whose powers have been clipped in recent years, are now largely out of sight