SAUDI ARABIA: Precarious Posting

TRISTAN WILLENBURG WRITES – Beware what you click on Facebook. An Indian is under arrest in Saudi Arabia for what he says was simply taking a look at an image authorities have since deemed blasphemous. The rub: To see the photo, the man says he was tricked into giving it a ‘like,’ which then reposted it to his own timeline.

The post was reportedly an image of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest mosque, reconfigured as a Hindu temple.

A local news agency reported that the Kaaba, the cubic building in the center of the mosque, was covered in Hindu symbols. A Saudi national was shocked by the picture and alerted the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the government organization responsible for enforcing religious law in the country, which then launched an investigation into the incident.

When the authorities questioned the suspect, he admitted that it was his Facebook page, but that the image was not his. The suspect maintained that he had seen a link to the picture on another site and was forced to click “like” to actually see it. Once he “liked” the picture, it automatically uploaded to his Facebook page for public viewing. Despite this allegedly inadvertent posting, the investigation concluded that he was guilty of committing cyber crime by promoting an offensive picture.

The “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers” is a type of cyber crime in Saudi Arabia according to the Saudi Embassy. Being found guilty of this crime could result in jail time for up to five years and a fine of up to 3 million riyals, which is a little less than $800,000 in US dollars. Cyber laws also ban things such as pornography, gambling, and sites that facilitate drug use or human trafficking.

The Indian consulate has confirmed the arrest.  They said that while they are trying to help the man, there is little that can be done until the investigation is concluded and judgment is pronounced. Only then may the consulate enter a plea on the man’s behalf.  The prosecution in the case is reportedly calling on the courts to punish the suspect severely for the blasphemous image.

Social media experts warn that people need to be careful about what they post on Facebook or Twitter. Things that seem innocent at the time may have devastating repercussions.  A consultant with an online security firm offered some advice, “You should never click on anything automatically. It can create havoc as in the case of this young man.” In other words, watch what you “like.”


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