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Saudi Arabia condones anti-Shia hate speech from religious establishment, says HRW Open in fullscreen

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Saudi Arabia condones anti-Shia hate speech from religious establishment, says HRW

Shia in Saudi Arabia make up around ten percent of the population [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 September, 2017

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Saudi Arabia is condoning hate speech against its Shia minority from the upper echelons of its religious establishment, schoolbooks and social media, claims HRW.

Saudi Arabia is condoning hate speech against its Shia minority from the upper echelons of its religious establishment, schoolbooks and social media, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Saudi clerics, including those holding official positions, have "vigorously employed" modern tools, such as Twitter, to stoke intolerance among millions of followers, the New-York based watchdog said.

Often their words rise to the level of "incitement to hatred or discrimination", it said.

Derogatory statements against Shia made by influential clerics mirror language found in state-sanctioned religious edicts end even children's schoolbooks, which use widely understood terms to castigate Shia religious beliefs, HRW said.

The watchdog cited numerous examples, including a Facebook post in which al-Sharif Hatem bin Aref al-Awni - a former member of the government's Shura council - hailed the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Qatif in 2015.

He later removed the post, without explanation.

Anti-Shia attitudes come from the top.

In September 2016, the current grand mufti of Saudi Arabia - the country's highest religious authority - told Okaz newspaper that Iranians are "not Muslims", HRW researchers found.

They point out that such designations are dangerous in a country where apostasy can be punishable by death.

HRW said hate speech against Shia has had "fatal consequences" across the region, employed by groups including the Islamic State and al-Qaeda as justification for targeting Shia civilians and religious sites in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

"Saudi officials immediately condemned these attacks, but they have not acted to stamp out the hate speech that supports them," HRW said.

On the contrary, Riyadh had on occasions punished those who attempted to unite Sunnis and Shia, and had shut down a committee which was working to unify the Sunni and Shia lunar calendars.

The US considers Saudi Arabia a country of "particular concern" when it comes to religious persecution, but successive administrations have waived the potential sanctions that come with such a designation.

Earlier this month, HRW accused Riyadh of teaching children to hate minority Muslim sects with its school religious curriculum.

The reports come as authorities this month arrested around two dozen people, including influential clerics, in what activists decried as a coordinated crackdown.

Analysts say many of those detained are resistant to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's aggressive foreign policy that includes the boycott of Qatar as well as some of his bold reforms, dubbed Vision 2030, which include privatising state assets and cutting subsidies.

The activist-run Prisoner of Conscience group has said that authorities have detained four more prominent Islamic preachers over the past week.

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