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Over 200 people arrested for “indecency” and “harassment” in one week

Women on the streets of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2015. – Khalid Mohammed / AP / SIPA

More than 200 people have been arrested in recent days in Saudi Arabia for “indecency” and “harassment”. In the week of December 16-22, 120 men and women were arrested for wearing “inappropriate clothing” and 88 others for “harassment,” said Ryad police. Authorities added that sanctions in the nature have not been specified, have struck the violators.

The arrests followed complaints from several women on social media about harassment during the MDL Beast electronic music festival near Ryad earlier this month.

A softening of social norms which is slow to materialize

This is the first moral recall campaign since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman started relax social restrictions in this ultra-conservative kingdom. Its policy has been reflected in particular in the reopening of cinemas, the authorization given to women to drive and the organization of concerts and sporting events.

Social easing has been welcomed by many Saudis, two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30. But in September, Saudi Arabia said it would punish perpetrators of “public decency” with the announcement of the granting of tourist visas.

Avoid “tight-fitting clothes” and gestures of affection

Men and women should avoid “tight-fitting clothes” or gestures of affection in public, said the Tourism Authority on an English website, adding that “women should cover their shoulders and knees.”

The decency guidelines, first approved by the government in April, appeared vague and raised concerns about their interpretation.

They also fueled fears of a return of the religious police who watched over the separation of women and men in public, respect for the Islamic dress code and the obligation to close businesses during prayers.

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