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Saudi ministers urge removal of camera phone ban

Ban will 'increase prices significantly'

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Four Saudi ministers have appealed to to lift the ban on camera phones in the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and Ministry of Finance all separately requested that mobile phones with cameras be allowed.

In many countries places such as leisure centres have banned camera phones from the premises, but Saudi Arabia is the only country to have made them illegal. The ministers say that mobile phones have become a "fait accompli, like television and the internet," AFP reports.

Saudi Arabia imports 6m mobile phones a year, and the ministers note that most mobile phones will come equipped with cameras. Therefore, companies will have to make separate phones for Saudi Arabia, thus driving up the price. The small, but prospering, black market in camera phones will also expand, the ministers say.

A ban on camera phones has been in place since October 2002, according to a Silicon.com report from the time. The ban was enacted out of a fear that men would use the phones to secretly photograph women, and publish the pictures on the internet without the consent of the subjects.

But camera phones are still freely available in Saudi Arabia and have been since before the ban was imposed. This trade in illegal phones is so prevalent that they are still widely advertised, despite the ban. Confusingly, the technically illegal Samsung E700 is advertised on a main thoroughfare in Jeddah, Arab News reports.

However, in September this year, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, ruled that mobile phones with cameras are not acceptable.

Here is an extract from an International Islamic News Agency (IINA) bulletin, dated September 3.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz went on to clarify that the exchange of telephone or mobile messages between boys and girls is something that is shunned by the Islamic Shari'a, and could lead to things that are forbidden and to untold problems. He said some of the youths indulge in such practices only to cheat and receive the girls into doing committing morally blunders, adding that some of the girls have had their photos taken by the mobile cameras, and that such practices have led to extreme moral damage to the modesty and chastity of the girls that were involved.

The Grand Mufti's intervention may have been a response to the public outcry in Saudi Arabia in July this year over the circulation of a video of a rape captured on a mobile phone.

This has prompted a new crackdown on camera phones - and not just by the authorities. In September two Saudi female wedding guests were beaten by other guests as they tried to photograph the celebration using a mobile phone. The inference is that they were attacked by other women, as Saudi weddings are women-only affairs - except for the bridegroom, of course.

The onus of enforcing the ban falls on the Saudi police and also the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia's 'morality police'.The 'mutawaeen', or 'enforcers', patrol the streets, ensuring that no-one is acting immorally, such as a woman being out with a man who is not a relative. The punishment for such transgressions is severe, often involving beatings and humiliation.

The morality police have come under increasing scrutiny for their strict application of Muslim virtues and for the ways they enforce these views. They encourage people to inform on others among them who are suspected of acting unvirtuously, and to punish such activities. ®

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