Top Saudi clerics spread hatred against Shiites through social media, textbooks: HRW report

The clerics use widely understood terms in the children’s schoolbooks to reprimand the beliefs of the Shiite religion, said HRW.

Adding major concerns for the minority Shiite citizens living in Saudi Arabia, a recent study revealed that the government continues to tolerate hate speeches from the upper ranks of its religious establishments. The Human Rights Watch report, titled ” They Are Not Our Brothers: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials” stated that the top clerics of the country keep spreading words of discrimination and hatred through schoolbooks and social media platforms.

The New York based watchdog further mentioned in its study that the Saudi clerics, including those holding official positions, have “vigorously employed” social media tools to spread words of intolerance among their millions of followers. The report said that often the words rise to the level of “incitement to hatred or discrimination”.

While the Saudi state keep allowing its government-appointed clerics to use derogatory terms against the Muslim Shiites, derogatory statements by the religious leaders have also found its place in the state-sanctioned religious edicts and even schoolbooks. According to the 62-page report by HRW, the clerics use widely understood terms in the children’s schoolbooks to reprimand the beliefs of the Shiite religion.

The HRW report cited several examples of the instances where clerics publicly gave hate speeches or made derogatory remarks against the country’s minority group. In one such instance, Sharif Hatem bin Aref al-Awni, a former member of the government’s Shura council, over a post in Facebook, hailed the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Qatif in 2015. However, the cleric later removed the post without any explanation.

The study further found out that in 2016, the current grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, while speaking to Okaz newspaper, termed the Iranians as “non Muslims’. The report further pointed out that the derogatory statements against the Shiites had “fatal consequences” in the past, with terror outfits in the region like Islamic States and al-Qaida justifying the attacks on Shiite civilians and religious sites in Syria, Iraq and other places.

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

There had been continuing verbal or physical attacks on the Saudi Shiites, mostly residing in the country’s eastern region. The tension at the area further intensified after Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iran severed ties last year.

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