Saudi Arabia tightens media laws

Royal order threatens fines and closure of publications that jeopardise kingdom's stability or offends clerics.

    Security has been strengthened in Saudi Arabia in an effort to crush possible protests [AFP]

    Saudi Arabia has tightened its control of the media, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

    The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order.

    They also banned stirring up sectarianism and "anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country".

    "All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing ... anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests," the state news agency SPA said.

    Saudi Arabia, which is a major US ally, follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.

    It  has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

    Facebook call unheeded

    Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

    Minority Shias have staged a number of street marches in the eastern province, where most of Saudi Arabia's oil fields are located.

    Shias are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the country's 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

    Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

    In turn, the royal order banned the "infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country's senior clerics or statesmen".

    King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

    According to the amendment published on Friday, punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation.

    It also allows for banning the writer from contributing to any media.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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