Men standing in front of a building in Saudi Arabia. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Saudi Araia’s clerics are accused of using hate speech to demonise religious minorities in the mainly Sunni Muslim state. (World Watch Monitor)

Some Saudi religious scholars and clerics use language that discriminates against and demonises religious minorities, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

“Saudi Arabia has permitted government-appointed religious scholars and clerics to refer to religious minorities in derogatory terms or demonise them in official documents and religious rulings that influence government decision-making,” says the report, “‘They Are Not Our Brothers’: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials”, released last week. “In recent years, government clerics and others have used the internet and social media to demonise and incite hatred against Shia Muslims and others who do not conform to their views.”

“Saudi Arabia has relentlessly promoted a reform narrative in recent years, yet it allows government-affiliated clerics and textbooks to openly demonise religious minorities such as Shia,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This hate speech prolongs the systematic discrimination against the Shia minority and – at its worst – is employed by violent groups who attack them.”

A previous Human Rights Watch report, published last month, said students in Saudi Arabia’s schools receive religious education that contains “hateful and incendiary language” towards other Islamic traditions than Sunni Islam, and severe criticism of Jews, Christians and people of other faiths.

In July, Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, called on the US government to halt its recently approved multi-billion dollar defence contracts with Riyadh “as long as the Saudi government published, posts, approves, finances or distributes textbooks that direct violence and hatred against any religion or group”.