YouTube may have to rename itself ShariahTube after using an anti-bullying policy to protect Saudi religious police who got caught beating a woman on film. Her infraction: a visible face.
Members of Saudi Arabia's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue recently ordered two females walking outside the Nakheel Mall in Riyadh to cover their faces and then get into their van. They refused to get into the vehicle and were pursued by the religious police, or "mutaween," as they fled.
"The Commission member asked us if we were students or employees, and wanted to take us into the vehicle," one of the women told Gulf News on Wednesday. "However, as we realized the large number of Commission members [inside], we refused and insisted that they call our families. However, the Commission member did not listen and he and others tried to pull us inside the van by force."
The two women separated as they tried to escape on foot, but the apprehension and subsequent beating of one of them was filmed and uploaded online.
"My friend ran away towards the main avenue, and everybody saw on social media what happened to her," said the woman, who chose to remain anonymous. "She was eventually kept away from the Commission members and put on a bus that took her home. She was in a terrible state. The Commission took her bag and some of her belongings, but she managed to keep the mobile phone that they wanted to wrestle out of her hand."
A source at the mall told the newspaper that Mubarak Al Dossari, a local security guard who posted the video online, was removed from his post for his own safety.
"I was shocked to see the Commission member hold the girl violently in his attempt to arrest her, which prompted me to jump in and rescue her and put her on a school bus," Al Dossari said.
According to reports, video of the incident posted to social media has been fueling outrage among Saudi citizens. Gulf News included an embedded video of the police assault from YouTube only to see the online-video site remove it "for violating YouTube's policy on harassment and bullying."
Mohammad Al Sebr, the spokesperson for the commission in Riyadh, told the newspaper on Thursday that an investigation into the incident concluded "the girl had broken a rule that necessitated her arrest. However, the commission patrol did not comply with the regulations and directives with regard to arresting offenders, which led to the escalation of the situation."
Saudi Arabia's religious police are infamously known for the time they prevented schoolgirls leaving a burning building in March 2012 because they were not wearing proper Islamic dress. The inferno claimed the lives of 15 girls, BBC reported at the time.
YouTube's decision to censor the video using its "harassment and cyberbullying" guidelines appears to only benefit the religious police given the victims' desire to have their story told.
YouTube defines harassment as follows:
- Abusive videos, comments, messages.
- Revealing someone’s personal information.
- Maliciously recording someone without their consent.
- Deliberately posting content in order to humiliate someone.
- Making hurtful and negative comments/videos about another person.
- Unwanted sexualization, which encompasses sexual harassment or sexual bullying in any form.
The episode echoes YouTube's decision to pull the "The Innocence of Muslims" video in 2012 after the Obama administration claimed it sparked the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. That was eventually shown to be a lie, but YouTube was allegedly encouraged by the White House to yank the video anyway.
"I am actually kind of distressed by this," Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Politico on Sept. 14, 2012. "Even though there are all these great quotes from inside the White House saying they support free speech....by calling YouTube from the White House, they were sending a message no matter how much they say we don't want them to take it down, when the White House calls and asks you to review it, it sends a message and has a certain chilling effect."
Free speech advocates worry that Twitter will be the next media giant to begin protecting Islam under the guise of diversity and tolerance. The company unveiled the "Twitter Trust and Safety Council," which includes dozens of groups allegedly dedicated to the protection of free speech.
"It doesn’t help that among the more than 40 organizations that make up the council, one finds such groups as the 'Dangerous Speech Project,' a group with ties to the liberal John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and to financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute," the Daily Signal reported Wednesday.
Twitter, like YouTube, has crafted its "hate content" policy in a way that would easily allow moderators to expunge criticism of Islam or Shariah law.
"Hate speech or advocacy against an individual, organization or protected group based on race, ethnicity, national origin, color, religion, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status or other protected status [is prohibited]," the policy states.