RIYADH: A religious group barged into the Riyadh International Book Fair 2011 Wednesday night for what it described as “immoral practices” intimidating both visitors and organizers at the most important cultural event in the Saudi calendar.
The group claimed it was “denouncing violations of Islamic teachings taking place at the book fair,” one religious man said. The violations included, the group said, the mixing of genders and presence of “questionable books and authors” at the book fair. Some of the group members demanded the confiscation of certain books by Lebanese publishers describing them as “against Islam.” One exhibitor said
“The problem is, they didn’t even bother to read the inside of the books, in which one of them even defends Islam.”
The group confronted Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja at the book fair and asked him to “fear Allah about the type of books offered at the fair.”
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice “the Hai’a” denied any connection to the group. “Those who don’t carry official Hai’a ID cards at the book fair have nothing to do with the Hai’a,” said Turki Al-Shelail, spokesman of the Riyadh Hai’a.
The group surrounded the Saudi TV booth for over one-and-a-half hours protesting what it called the presence of female broadcasters covering the event and demanded they leave immediately.
The police, however, managed to disperse the group after it kept heckling the visitors and organizers.
A female journalist, who wanted to be anonymous, said that the group stopped her from taking photos of the event. “Photos are haram (impermissible in Islam),” they told her, she said. “They even accused me of flirting with them,” she added. The journalist said she reported the incident to the police.
A female nurse from the Ministry of Health, who was attending the event, said the group called her “lewd” despite wearing her Muslim veil.”It was devastating and I had to leave immediately,” she said.
A book fair organizer said the “angry group” intimidated him. “They threatened to break my hand,” said Abdullah Wafiya, a member of the organizing committee. Talk show host Turki Al-Dakheel was also scolded by the group for his outspoken TV show Idha’at on Al-Arabiya TV and articles in Al-Watan newspaper. “Fear Allah in what you present to the public,” they told him.
As the group intensified its confrontation with organizers, journalists, and authors, the police grouped them and drove them outside the conference hall, allowing visitors to spend a little headache-free time flipping through the books. Eyewitnesses said that the police detained at least three of the group.
– Okaz/Saudi Gazette