print
memri
December 17, 2013 No.
5567

Saudi Columnist: Religious Police Trying To Prevent Media From Exposing Its Mistakes

On September 23, 2013, two young Saudi men drove off a bridge while being chased by the officers from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, i.e., the Saudi religious police, known locally as "the Haia." One of them was killed instantly and the other later died from his wounds. In an October 1, 2013 article in the Saudi daily 'Okaz, columnist Khalaf Al-Harbi pointed out that the Haia, "in complete indifference to human lives or the safety of society," refused to divulge information about this incident and expected the media to describe it as a simple accident. He condemned this attempt to silence the media and prevent it from criticizing the Haia's mistakes, stating that a body that silences all its critics will never learn from its mistakes or carry out much-needed reforms. He added that the danger to the Haia comes not from the media or the liberals but from its own fanatic officers.

The following are excerpts from an English translation of the article that was published by the Saudi Gazette.[1]


Khalaf Al-Harbi (image: arabmediaforum.ae)

"Each time any member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) makes a mistake, the Haia will direct its arrows away from the culprit toward the media. It wants the media to keep quiet until the story goes away peacefully without any trouble...

"Participating in a recent TV talk show, Haia chief Dr. Abdullateef Al-Asheikh did not hide his anger and exasperation with the local media for its coverage of [an] incident [which] took place during the National Day celebrations in Riyadh. Two Haia members chased two Saudi brothers until their car fell from a bridge, killing one of them on the spot and seriously injuring the other, who later died in hospital. The language of the chairman was not different from that of the other Haia members who always try to avoid the real issue by attacking the media. [According to them] the journalists should not carry live coverage of the incidents involving Haia members. They should wait until the official spokesman of the Haia issues a press release that will pass off the chase as an ordinary "traffic accident". The issue will then be closed down.

"The Haia, in complete indifference to human lives or the safety of society, will not tell us when this "tragic traffic accident" took place, nor will it elaborate on its causes. The Haia considers its mistakes and negative attitudes a small drop in the wide sea of its achievements and positive attitudes. With the media keeping silent, the drops of the Haia's mistakes will accumulate until the sea of its achievements is buried. [Then] the Haia will not learn from its mistakes and society will not be in a position to hold it accountable for any wrongdoing.

"With due appreciation and respect to the Haia chief, I would like to inform him that it is the journalists who are now defending his reforms that are being resisted by the Haia members themselves. [On September 29, 2013,] the Haia chief made a decision [to ban] his men from chasing the cars of suspects. When we [journalists] hail this decision, we are in fact supporting him against the members [of his own organization], who are endeavoring to have the absolute power to do what they want to do without fearing any punishment. Some of the Haia members do not want to be ordinary public servants executing certain instructions, but angels who never make mistakes.

"The danger [to] the Haia [comes] from its own fanatic members, not from the media or the liberals. It is these fanatic members who are building thick walls between the Haia and society.

"Had it not been for video clips, Twitter, the press, satellite channels and social media, the Riyadh incident in which the two brothers were killed would have been buried like many other mistakes."

Endnotes:

[1] Saudigazette.com.sa, October 3, 2013.