Saudi Arabia is launching a programme to “inoculate” children against Westernisation, atheism, liberalism and secularism.
The education ministry’s plans were announced in the Makkah newspaper, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) said, sparking a storm of debate and an Arabic hashtag translated as “Liberalism is a dangerous group” on Twitter.
It follows another government project announced in March 2015 to “protect schoolboys and schoolgirls from deviant behaviour” by enforcing religious and moral values.
Saudi critics labelled the latest initiative “danger to security” and a “disaster” for religious freedom and intellectual debate in Saudi Arabia.
“Have you ever heard of a liberal who committed murder? Or of a secularist who blew himself up?” Nadine al-Budair asked on Twitter, while columnists at other Saudi newspapers accused the government of seeking to prevent free thought and prioritising a witch-hunt against “liberals” over the real terror threat from Isis and al-Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia’s constitution enshrines Sunni Islam as the foundation for its governance and law, opening with the clause: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God's Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet, God's prayers and peace be upon him, are its constitution.”
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
It states that Saudis must be brought up on the basis of Islamic faith and that the state will accordingly strive to maintain the country’s Arab and Islamic values and “protect Islam”.
The constitution stipulates that education will “aim at instilling the Islamic faith in the younger generation” and mould children to be “useful” in society.
Human rights organisations have long raised alarm over Saudi Arabia’s repression of liberal thought with prosecutions and arrests, including the imprisonment and lashing of secular blogger Raif Badawi.
Human Rights Watch’s 2016 world report said the state’s adherence to the fundamentalist Wahhabist branch of Sunni Islam generates wide-ranging constraints on freedom of religion.
It does not tolerate public worship by non-Muslims and systematically discriminates against Islamic religious minorities, including Shias and Ismailis
“Immorality” laws are additionally used to crack down on pro-LGBT, feminist and reformist writing and social media posts, while "blasphemy" is a capital offence.
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