Saudi youths in trouble over MTV reality show

Tue Jun 1, 2010 8:01am EDT
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By Souhail Karam

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's religious police are trying to bring to court three Saudi youths for challenging the kingdom's austere lifestyle on an MTV reality show -- a new test of the country's stated commitment to reform.

Divisions have emerged within the influential religious establishment, including the religious police body itself, over long-held restrictions that have been enforced in the world's leading oil producing country and key U.S. ally.

An official at the Jeddah court confirmed the filing of the lawsuit for the crime of "openly declaring sin" and said it would take at least one week for the Islamic sharia court to decide whether to proceed with a trial or dismiss the case.

The Saudi judiciary system, based on an austere reading of Islamic sharia law, reserves harsh punishments for such offences that could involve lashes with whip and years of imprisonment.

Aired last month, MTV's "True Life - Resist the Power, Saudi Arabia" followed how three Saudi youths and a heavy metal band cope with the strictures they encounter in their daily life in Jeddah, seen as the kingdom's most liberal city (here).

The kingdom is ruled by the Al Saud family in alliance with clerics from the austere Wahhabi school of Islam who oversee mosques, the judiciary and education, as well as run their own coercive apparatus, the religious police.

Interior ministry police and the religious police work together to make sure unrelated men and women are kept apart, women are covered from head to toe and that sharia law is implemented, including a ban on alcohol.

"We are not free to live as we like," said Aziz, one of the youths who appeared on the MTV show. The episode showed how he tries to meet his girlfriend for a date, a risky endeavor in the kingdom. "I feel great solace when I talk to her."   Continued...