Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
So-called religious vigilantes and/or “volunteers” unaffiliated with the CPVPV sometimes harassed and assaulted citizens and foreigners. At an international cultural fair in Taif, a volunteer religious “policewoman” (muhtasiba) forcibly removed the wires of an amplifier broadcasting musical poems. The incident sparked debate on social media throughout the country. Many responded defending the woman for preventing the broadcast of music, considered a vice by some Muslims. In response to the incident, local media reported Grand Mufti Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh said, “Imam Al-Nawawi [an influential medieval Salafi scholar] stated the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice was not exclusive to the ashab al-welayat [the guardians] but is permissible for individual Muslims.”
Instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur with respect to private sector employment. Social media provided an outlet for citizens to discuss current events and religious issues, which sometimes included making disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.” In addition, terms like “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were commonly found in public discourse.
NGOs reported that Nakhawala Shia faced more discriminatory practices than did Twelvers in Eastern Province. Discrimination in employment and education was based on the Nakhawala surname “al-Nakhly,” which roughly translates as “farmers” and identifies their minority status and group.
While discussion of sensitive topics on social media was frequent, according to Freedom House, “self-censorship [on social media] remained prevalent when discussing topics such as politics, religion, or the royal family.” For example, one local news website reported the Ministry of Culture and Information banned the book Journey to a Land Not Ruled By Allah by Saudi author Ibrahim al-Tamimi at the Riyadh book fair after conservatives called for the ban using a Twitter hashtag, Campaign Against Atheist Accounts, to discuss atheist accounts on social media. One user tweeted: “The pornographic and atheist accounts under Saudi names are definitely not Saudi, they must be third parties trying to destroy our beliefs and most of these users are supporting the call to end male guardianship.”