Saudi prominent scholar 'held' after criticising entertainment authority

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have arrested a prominent scholar after he criticised the policies of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) as a threat to the kingdom's culture, according to a prisoners' rights group.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, the Prisoners of Conscience group said Sheikh Omar al-Muqbil, a professor of Islamic law at Qassim University, was detained after a video resurfaced in which he described the GEA's actions as "erasing the original identity of society".

"This is a continuation of the arbitrary arrests that have taken place in the kingdom for the past two years, which are aimed at leading scholars, sheikhs and other free thinkers," the Prisoners of Conscience group said.


Over the past year, the GEA has hosted a number of music stars including Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and Sean Paul, in an attempt to boost the image of Saudi Arabia globally.

Last year, the authority announced plans to invest $64bn in the entertainment sector during the next decade as part of a programme of social and economic reforms driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the world's top oil exporter. 

The reforms stem partly from an economic motive to increase domestic spending on entertainment and attract Western investment to offset the effect of a slump in the price of oil that began in 2014.

Other measures include ending decades-long bans on women driving, cinemas and mixed-gender concerts.

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