- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (Agence France-Presse) | Saudi Arabia’s religious police have announced a ban on selling pet cats and dogs or exercising them in public in the Saudi capital because of men using them as a means of making passes at women, an official said Wednesday.

Othman al-Othman, head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Riyadh, known as the Muttawa, told the Saudi edition of al-Hayat newspaper that the commission has started enforcing an old religious edict.

He said the commission was implementing a decision taken a month ago by the acting governor of the capital, Prince Sattam bin Abdul Aziz, adding that it follows an old edict issued by the supreme council of Saudi scholars.

The reason behind reinforcing the edict now was a rising fashion among some men using pets in public “to make passes on women and disturb families,” he said, without giving more details.

Mr. al-Othman said the commission has instructed its offices in the capital to tell pet shops “to stop selling cats and dogs.”

The 5,000-strong religious police oversees the adherence to Wahhabism - a strict version of Sunni Islam, which also forces women to cover themselves from head to toe when in public, and bans them from driving.

Meanwhile a Saudi appeals court has upheld a jail and flogging verdict against a biochemist and his female student whose research contact was ruled to be a front for a telephone affair that led her to divorce her husband, Reuters news agency reported.

The biochemist, Khalid Zahrani, said Wednesday that he found out this week from the court offices that three judges had approved the verdict.

He was sentenced last year to eight months in prison and 600 lashes and his student to four months in prison and 350 lashes for establishing a telephone relationship that the court said led her to divorce her husband.

The man said the only recourse left to him was the Supreme Judicial Council, a court of cassation that only views cases if requested by the king. He also hopes for intervention from the government’s Human Rights Commission.

The hospital where the biochemist worked in al-Baha in the southwest of the kingdom put him in charge of the master’s degree research the student was doing at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jidda in 2002.

The woman obtained a divorce seven months after she was married in 2004. Her husband then raised the court case, saying the supervisor’s telephone calls led to the breakup.

Rights groups and Saudi reformers have criticized what they say is an arbitrary justice system, based on uncodified Islamic Shariah law, unsuited to the needs of a country of 25 million people. There are less than 1,000 judges, all of them religious scholars.

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