Control of the media has been tightened in Saudi Arabia by amendments to the media law issued as a royal order on Friday. State media reported that the amendments threaten fines and closure of publications which jeopardised the country’s stability or offended clerics.
The state news agency also said they banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country”.
It added : “All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests.”
Punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication which published the violation.
The amendment also allows banning the writer from contributing to any media.
Major US ally Saudi Arabia has managed to avoid the unrest spreading through the Arab world, which led to the departure of Tunisian and Egyptian leaders, and is currently causing protests in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia has no elected parliament and no political parties. It follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and doesn’t allow any form of protest.
Although a Facebook call for protests was launched on March 11, almost no Saudis in major cities answered it.
But a number of street marches have been staged by minority Shias in the eastern province, where are most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields.
The country holds 18 million people and Shias, who are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the population, complain of discrimination. The government denies the charge.
In order to ban the protests, clerics issued a religious edict saying that demonstrations are against Islamic law.
The royal order followed by banning the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen”.
The security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests, have been strengthened by King Abdullah.