JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A Saudi court has sentenced a man to five years in jail and 1,000 lashes for boasting about his sexual exploits on television, in a case that has divided public opinion in the conservative Islamic kingdom.
Abdul-Jawad, a divorced father of four, was arrested in August after discussing his premarital sexual encounters, showing off his pick-up techniques and displaying some sex toys and lubricants on a Lebanese TV program.
His comments caused a public outcry in Saudi Arabia, where the religious elite has vast powers over society and religious police enforce the segregation of men and women in public.
King Abdullah has begun to reform education and the judiciary in recent years, partly to discourage Islamic militancy. But he faces resistance from clerics and conservative princes and analysts say the case gives fresh momentum to some clerics’ calls for strict curbs on social freedoms.
Three of Abdul-Jawad’s friends who appeared on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) were sentenced to two years in jail and 300 lashes each.
LBC is a popular channel in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most conservative societies, and many Saudis tune into its Western-style entertainment programs and talk shows.
Abdul-Jawad, 32, spoke from his bedroom on an episode of “In Bold Red.” He was shown driving his red convertible to a shopping mall where he said he used his mobile phone to pick up girls.
A court official said that, on top of the lashings and jail sentence, Abdul-Jawad’s phone and car would be confiscated and he would be banned from traveling after completing his term.
“Dont push! Don’t push,” a distressed Abdul-Jawad yelled as he struggled in the grasp of two policemen escorting him out of the judge’s office in Jeddah Wednesday.
Lawyers say Abdul-Jawad could have been given the death penalty. Judges, who are clerics of Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi school of Islam, have wide powers of discretion.
Abdul-Jawad’s brother said it would be difficult for him to be accepted back into society.
“Now he has been fired from his job and after his jail term it won’t be possible for him to get a job in government or the private sector because he was charged with a case of moral indecency,” the brother, who did not want to be named, told Reuters. (Writing by Ulf Laessing; editing by Andrew Hammond and Lin Noueihed)