Saudi men arrested for offering free hugs in Riyadh
21 November 2013
- From the section Middle East
Two men have been arrested in Saudi Arabia for offering free hugs to passers-by in the capital, Riyadh.
The Saudi religious police detained the two young men for indulging in exotic practices and offending public order.
The free hugs movement aims to “brighten up” people’s lives by offering strangers hugs.
A young Saudi man, Bandr al-Swed, posted a video of himself offering hugs to male strangers on YouTube, where it has received nearly 1.5m views.
“After seeing the Free Hugs Campaign in many different countries, I decided to do it in my own country,” Mr Swed told al-Arabiya news.
“I liked the idea and thought it could bring happiness to Saudi Arabia.”
Britain’s Independent newspaper reports that his video inspired two more young Saudis, Abdulrahman al-Khayyal and a friend.
They offered hugs, advertised on a placard, in one of Riyadh’s main shopping streets.
They were subsequently arrested by the kingdom’s religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which is charged with ensuring that sharia law is strictly adhered to.
The two were required to sign a pledge that they would not offer hugs again, reports say.
The duties of Saudi Arabia’s religious police, or mutawa, include preventing women driving, enforcing modest dress codes, policing bans on public entertainment and making sure all businesses close for prayers five times a day.
Some in the kingdom find the mutawa’s powers an interference in their lives.
The religious police attracted criticism for their role in a 2002 fire at a school in Mecca in which 15 girls died. The police were accused of trying to keep the girls inside the burning building because they were not wearing the proper black robes required of Saudi females.