Two Saudis have been detained in the country’s capital for offering free hugs to passers-by. The local police arrested them for ‘indulging in exotic practices’ and offending public order.
One of the campaigners announced on Twitter that he would offer free hugs to the public on Tahlia Street, a popular shopping area in Riyadh. The men advertised free hugs on a placard, Al-Hayat newspaper reported.
Later, they were arrested by the religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who are charged with ensuring that Sharia law is strictly obeyed.
The two had to sign a pledge that they would not offer hugs again.
Both men participate in the free hugs movement established to ‘brighten up’ people’s lives, which started after a young Saudi man, Bandr Swed, posted a video of himself offering hugs to male strangers on YouTube. The footage got almost 1.5 million views in just a couple of days.
“After seeing the Free Hugs Campaign in many different countries, I decided to do it in my own country. I liked the idea and thought it could bring happiness to Saudi Arabia,” the man told Al Arabiya.
The video reportedly inspired two young Saudis, Abdulrahman Khayyal and a friend, to start their own campaign on the Saudi streets.
The country’s religious police force which prevented them from carrying out their campaign is called Mutawa, and its responsibilities include preventing women driving, enforcing modest dress codes, policing bans on public entertainment and making sure all businesses close for prayers five times a day.
The police reacted to the complaints of the local families and individuals who reported the men’s actions.