‘Source of evil’: Saudi religious police launch Twitter account despite moral doubts

Reuters / Fahad Shadeed
Saudi Arabia’s religious police have joined Twitter, in what is seen as a public relations drive, and have already amassed 66,000 followers. Two years the same police warned against using the microblogging service.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) opened an account on Twitter on Friday under the username @PvGovSa.

The first tweet from the religious police read: “In the name of Allah and Allah’s blessing kicks off the official account of the General Presidency for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on Twitter asking Allah to benefit by everyone.”

A second tweet soon followed, showing the president of the commission, Abdul Rahman Al-Sanad, hard at work at a computer. The Saudi Gazette reports that the Haia decided to take to the social platform to improve the public image of the religious police.

This is quite a U-turn for the Haia agency. In May 2013, the head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police warned against its citizens using Twitter. Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said anyone using social media sites, especially Twitter, “has lost this world and his afterlife,” and that “Twitter was a platform for those who did not have any platform,” the BBC reported.

In October last year, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh continued his opposition to the site, adding Twitter is “the source of all evil and devastation.” He also said, "People are rushing to it thinking it's a source of credible information but it's a source of lies and falsehood."

Twitter has taken Saudi Arabia by storm as it has attracted users who want to try and circumnavigate the kingdom’s strict censorship laws. The Saudi Gazette reported in March that a total of eight million Saudi’s or 41 percent of the population have a Twitter account and on average, they send around 1 million tweets every 24 hours.

READ MORE: ‘Source of all evil’: Top Saudi cleric slams Twitter

Experts say Saudis are increasingly attracted to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook in an effort to express themselves and their occasionally radical opinions in the ultraconservative Muslim country.

The religious police, who ensure that citizens are maintaining a Sharia-complaint lifestyle, have been closely monitoring Twitter in the past and have enacted laws to make sure it is not used to criticize the kingdom.

In February 2014, Riyadh passed new counter-terrorism legislation that makes it an act of terrorism for any person to “insult the reputation of the state or its position,” thus forcing Saudi Twitter users to choose their 140-character messages very carefully.

A Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam,” after he co-founded the ‘Free Saudi Liberals’ website to discuss the role of religion in Saudi Arabia.