BEIRUT

Middle East

Saudi police arrest two over 'free hugs'

A Saudi child holds up a national flag with picture of King Abdullah bin Abdelazziz in the desert kingdom's capital Riyadh, on September 23, 2013. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE

RIYADH: Saudi religious police arrested two young men offering a "free hug" to passers-by in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom's capital, local media reported Thursday.

The arrests were made in the main Tahlia Street where the two men were waving banners marked "Free Hug" in English, according to news website Sabq.org.

Free Hugs Campaign is a movement for individuals to offer hugs to strangers in public places, especially in big cities, "to brighten up their lives".

The initiative prompted surprise and controversy in Saudi society.

"It's a free hug, not a free drug for God's sake!" wrote one Tweeter in support of the campaign.

However, another user slammed the move. "Today it's one hug, tomorrow it's a free kiss, and the next day it'll be free sex!"

The religious police, or Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, is charged with ensuring compliance with the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic morality.

But it is often accused of abuses.

Religious police ensure women obey Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers, implement a ban on public entertainment and force all businesses to close for prayers five times a day.

 

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