Study finds Saudi government still tolerates hate speech

The Saudi government continues to tolerate hate speech by some clerics against minority groups while public school textbooks in the kingdom still include language that discriminates against other forms of worship, a new study by Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

The New York-based watchdog says that despite reform efforts and strong condemnation of attacks against Shiite citizens, Saudi officials have not acted to stamp out hate speech by state-affiliated clerics and government agencies.

The Human Rights Watch report, titled ” They Are Not Our Brothers: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials “, said the Saudi state has permitted government-appointed religious clerics to refer to minority Muslim Shiites in derogatory terms, sometimes rising to the level of hate speech and incitement.

Saudi clerics mostly adhere to an ultraconservative Sunni interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism — and many view other faiths and variants of Islamic worship as sinful.

The 62-page report said courts also discriminate against Shiites and that school curriculum stigmatizes Shiite and other religious practices. The report said Shiites and Sufis who practice Islam differently to conservative Sunnis in Saudi Arabia are a “prime target of Saudi-sponsored hate speech and intolerant rhetoric.”

Saudi Arabia’s minority Shiites, who live mostly in the kingdom’s eastern region, have long complained of discrimination. Anti-Shiite rhetoric spiked, however, after the Sunni-led kingdom and Shiite-led Iran severed ties last year.

The rivalry between the two regional powers has played out in proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and has also fueled tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Bahrain and Lebanon.

The extremist Islamic State group’s branches in the Gulf have targeted Shiites in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, killing dozens of people in multiple attacks. The group considers Shiites as apostates and refers to them as “rafida” or “rawafid”, which means people who reject Sunni Islam.

The kingdom has strongly condemned the attacks and says the newly-established Department of Public Prosecution in Saudi Arabia has powers to charge offenders who are accused of spreading hate speech and inciting violence on social medial, including anyone who attempts to “foment sectarian violence.”

Still, Saudi clerics — many of whom have millions of followers on Twitter— have frequently referred to Iran’s government, or even Shiites in general, as “rawafid”.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s heir…

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