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Friday, August 17, 2007

Saudi morality cops to crack down on Internet porn

ABU DHABI The Saudi religious police have been granted expanded authority to include oversight of digital media.

Officials said the 10,000-member morality police would be trained to monitor Internet in Saudi Arabia.

"There are bad examples of how modern technology is used, for example the selling of types of decoder cards or decoders that access pornographic channels, the spreading of pornographic images or clips on mobile phones via Bluetooth or the Internet, or facilitating access to such clips," Suleyman Tuwaijri, director of the religious police in Medina, said.

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Under the plan approved by Saudi King Abdullah, the religious police, religious police, formally the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia, was granted expanded power, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the would monitor Internet traffic as well as the use of cellular phones. Officials said 375 officers would be trained in technology and Internet skills.

Since assuming the throne in 2005, Abdullah has strengthened the religious police. This has included increasing the force from about 5,000 to more than 10,000 members.

In March 2007, Riyad approved a law that banned hacking and unauthorized photography from cellular phones. The law set a one-year prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 Saudi riyals, or $133,000.

The legislation stemmed from complaints by prominent Saudis of the use of cellular phones to illicitly photograph women in public places. At one point, photographs of Saudi women in toilets or in dressing rooms were posted on the Internet.

In 2004, the religious police launched a campaign against cellular camera phones. At one point, the kingdom banned the import of these devices. In an interview with the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily, Tuwaijri outlined the commission's plan to combat technology deemed offensive to Islam. He said religious police would monitor the purchase of goods regarded as obscene or blasphemous.

Tuwaijri said religious police would also learn English and other languages to navigate the Internet and deal with foreigners. He said officers must learn to identify sacrilegious products.

"There are commercial goods that could cause offense to religions such as those that are contemptuous towards God or anything that Muslims deem sacred, or that contain phrases against Islam," Tuwaijri said. "There are goods that bear indecent phrases or pictures or that promote vice."

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