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Saudi Arabia: Legislation Enacted on Regulating Public Decency

(Nov. 4, 2019) On April 9, 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers issued Resolution No. 444 of 4 Shaban 1440 (corresponding to April 9, 2019), regulating public behavior and public decency. The Resolution, which consists of 10 articles, regulates the behavior of Saudi citizens and expats in public places in accordance with prevalent Saudi customs, values, and culture.

The Resolution defines “public decency” as “[a] set of behaviors and ethics that express the values of the society and its principle and identity” and states that its provisions apply to all persons in public places with no exceptions. (Arts. 1, 2.)

The Resolution provides that people in public places must pay respect to the values, customs, traditions, and culture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It prohibits persons from appearing in public places wearing indecent clothes and apparel bearing pictures, signs, or phrases that offend public decency. In addition, it bans writing and drawing on the walls of public places and public transportation vehicles, and prohibits any statement or act in public that threatens, intimidates, or endangers people in any way. (Arts. 3, 4, 5, 6.)

Administratively, the Resolution authorizes the minister of interior, in coordination with the chair of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, to determine the appropriate authorities to be tasked with implementing the Resolution, including private security companies, and to establish the appropriate sanctions. (Art. 7.)

Concerning sanctions, article 8 of the Regulation states that violators may be fined a maximum of 5,000 Saudi riyals (SAR) (about US$1,333) for the first offense, and that this financial penalty is to be doubled if the offender repeats the offense within one year of committing the first offense. Penalties may be appealed before the competent administrative court.

Article 9 of the Resolution requires that the Ministry of Interior issue, in coordination with the competent authorities, a table encompassing the types of violations and the amounts of corresponding financial penalties. The Ministry issued this table on September 28, 2019, five months after the Resolution was issued. The table includes 19 types of violations and, in accordance with the limits on financial penalties set in article 8 of the Resolution, established penalties ranging from SAR50 (about US$13) to SAR3,000 (about US$800). The violations provided in the table are as follows:

  • acts of public sexual harassment
  • playing loud music in residential areas
  • playing music during prayer times
  • littering
  • failing to remove pet waste
  • occupying seats designed for people with disabilities
  • bypassing barriers to enter public places
  • wearing improper dress in public, such as underwear or pajamas
  • wearing shirts that display nude pictures
  • wearing shirts that display phrases offending public decency
  • writing and drawing on the walls of public places
  • placing racist stickers on cars
  • distributing ads in public without a license
  • starting fires in authorized places during safaris
  • threatening people verbally or through gestures
  • cutting in line in public venues
  • shining laser pointers into people’s eyes
  • taking people’s pictures without their permission
  • taking pictures of a traffic accident without permission from the parties involved in the accident

Prepared by Abdulhadi Zafar, Law Library intern, under the supervision of George Sadek, Foreign Law Specialist