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23-04-2012 - Reuters

Men face jail for harassment in Saudi malls

Jeddah Saudi Arabian authorities will imprison anyone found guilty of harassing others in shopping centres, the Al Watan daily reported on Saturday, a month after the kingdom eased restrictions on men entering malls alone.

Mixing between unrelated men and women is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Attempts by men to get to know unrelated females by asking to exchange phone numbers or commenting on their beauty is considered by Saudi authorities to be sexual harassment.

"The governor of Riyadh, Prince Sattam Bin Abdul Aziz, ordered the concerned authorities to punish those guilty of harassment in malls with 5 days in prison if it is a first-time offender," Al Watan said, citing informed sources.

"If the person is caught again he will be jailed for 35 days and taken to court for the appropriate punishment," it said.

A spokesman from the Justice Ministry was not immediately available for comment. It was unclear whether the governor's warning was a reaction to new cases of harassment or an effort to deter such incidents, or both.

Last month the Riyadh governor relaxed curbs on single men entering shopping malls following complaints that they did not have enough to do in their spare time. The decision was backed by the religious police chief.

Religious police patrol Saudi streets to enforce the segregation of males and females. But young males often try to bypass the strictures by handing telephone numbers to unaccompanied women or following them to convey interest.

For most of the Saudi population, marriages are arranged and the groom is allowed to see his prospective bride only after he formally asks her parents for an introduction.


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