Saudi king replaces culture minister

Khoja removed a day after he shut down TV channel which hosted popular Sunni religious leaders critical of Shia faith.

Khoja had announced on Twitter he was ordering the closure of the religious TV channel Wesal [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has replaced the country’s minister of culture and information after he ordered the closure of a popular Sunni religious TV channel hostile to the country’s Shia minority.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz dismissed Abdulaziz bin Mohiuddin Khoja on Wednesday, a day after Khoja forced the closure of a Sunni religious television channel for allegedly fomenting sectarian hostility towards the kingdom’s Shia population.

On Tuesday, Khoja closed the Riyadh offices and broadcasts of the privately owned Wesal channel, which frequently hosts Sunni religious leaders critical of the Shia faith.

“I had ordered the shutdown of Wesal channel’s bureau in Riyadh and [am] banning it from broadcasting in the kingdom,” Khoja wrote on his Twitter account.

It was unclear if the departure of Khoja, who also served as Saudi’s ambassador to Morocco and Lebanon, was related to the order.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Jeddah, Khaled al-Maeena, editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette, said Khoja was not dismissed but left for health reasons and advancing age.

However, said it was time for the government to crack down on those trying to incite sectarian animosity in Saudi Arabia, Maeena said.

“As for the question of sectarian killings … this is the first time this has happened on that scale, and it has caused a lot of people concern,” he said.

Maeena said there was a need for “more dialogue” among the kindgom’s diverse communities, and for the government to step up reforms to prevent sectarian tensions.

Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority have long complained of discrimination, and on Monday masked men attacked a Shia shrine in the kindgom’s east commemorating the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and an iconic Shia martyr.

The attack left at least eight people dead and several others wounded.

The kingdom’s supreme council of Sunni leaders condemned the deadly attack, urging Saudis to “close ranks in standing up against the treacherous criminals”.

Authorities have blamed al-Qaeda for the attack, and rounded up 15 suspects in several cities in the Shia-populated Eastern Province.

Saudi courts have passed sentences on hundreds of people accused of involvement in al-Qaeda, in a relentless crackdown aimed at wiping out the group’s network.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies