Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Saudi Religious Police Tackle Cyberspace | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Medina, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia has presented training courses to familiarize 375 of its members with modern technology and the latest cyber culture to monitor any offences in this field.

Sheikh Suleyman Tuwaijri, the director of the Medina branch of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice told Asharq Al Awsat that the Commission is in the process of preparing some of its members, through these courses, to deal with the new advances and the proliferation of cyber culture, with a particular focus on computer-related offences and how to detect and deal with them, as well as offering specialized training courses to obtain the ICDL [International Computer Driving License].

Tuwaijri stated, “There are bad examples of how modern technology is used, for example the selling of types of decoder cards or decoders that access pornographic channels, the spreading of pornographic images or clips on mobile phones via Bluetooth or the internet, or facilitating access to such clips.”

Tuwaijri mentioned the methods used in dealing with commercial religious offences, saying, “There are types of commercial goods that could cause offense to religions such as those that are contemptuous towards God or anything that Muslims deem sacred, or that contain phrases against the Islamic creed. There are goods that bear indecent phrases or pictures or that promote vice.” He emphasized the necessity of coordination with the branches of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to curb these violations. He also pointed out that the commission’s field members must learn English, Urdu and other languages in order to deal easily with non-Arabic speakers and to develop their communication skills.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice launched a training and orientation program in March for members of its branches regarding the rules of Fiqh [jurisprudence], a workshop to introduce the system regarding criminal procedures and a workshop on how a representative of the Commission would deal with recent developments and the manners that a representative should portray during an assignment.

Over the last year, the commission’s local branch offered over nine different courses, including administrative programs at the Institute for Public Administration and legal courses organized by the administration. The branch has also sent staff members to pursue postgraduate studies at the Institute for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice at the Umm al Qura University where 18 members of the Commission are sent annually.

This week, Saudi Arabia announced that it will impose 1-year prison sentences and fines of 500,000 Saudi Riyals ($133,000) for Internet hacking and misuse of mobile telephone cameras, such as taking unauthorized pictures.

The cabinet said in a statement it approved a bill on information technology crimes proposed last year by the kingdom’s quasi-parliament, the advisory Shura assembly. The measure is to go to the king for ratification.

The bill would penalize “illegal entry into an Internet site or entering a site in order to change its design, destroy it or amend it”, it said in a statement published by state media.

It also defines as a crime “infringing upon private lives through misuse of mobile telephones equipped with cameras and similar devices with the purpose of defaming or harming people”.

Camera phones have been opposed by religious police in Saudi Arabia. The country banned the sale of the devices for several months in 2004 but restrictions have failed to stop the spread of the latest technological fashions in a country of 24 million with high per capita income and a burgeoning youth population.