Saudi Arabian officials are backpedaling on a recently released video referring to feminism, homosexuality, and atheism as illegal, extremist ideas.
The clip was posted on Twitter over the weekend and quickly deleted by Saudi Arabia’s State Security Presidency, an agency that answers directly to King Salman. In a voiceover, the video said that “all forms of extremism and perversion are unacceptable.”
“Don’t forget that excess of anything at the expense of the homeland is considered extremism,” the narration added.
But according to Reuters, the agency now claims the video contained several mistakes and that it was withdrawn pending an internal investigation. While the state-controlled Saudi Human Rights Commission clarified that feminism is not a crime, there was no mention of homosexuality or atheism in either statement. Both are currently against the law in Saudi Arabia, punishable with the death penalty.
In recent years, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tried to put a friendlier face on the country’s regressive laws, considered the worst in the world for LGBTQ+ people. He has promoted less extreme religious codes, launched a tourist visa, and loosened requirements that women allow male relatives to make legal decisions for them.
However, many of the citizens who campaigned for those reforms were kidnapped and tortured by police. Activists including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, and Naseema al-Sada remain in detention, and 14 others have been held without trial since April of this year.
The tension between the image Saudi Arabia wants to portray and its reality where highligjted over the weekend as the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee posted lighthearted tweets about soccer and winter festivals at the same time the government referred to homosexuality as “extremism” and “perversion.”
Those attempts have human rights observers warning the international community not to be fooled.
“The Saudi state security agency’s announcement which labels feminism, atheism, and homosexuality as extremist ideas punishable by jail and flogging is outrageous,” wrote Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director in a statement. “Key allies such as the U.S., U.K. and E.U. must pressure the Kingdom and highlight the urgent need to protect freedom of expression in the country starting with the release of imprisoned human rights defenders and anyone detained for their peaceful expression.”
But in recent weeks Saudi Arabia has won strong support from American technology companies. Last week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi brushed aside the state-sponsored murder of a journalist as “a mistake,” before later correcting himself that that government’s actions were actually “reprehensible.”
Last month at an investment conference, the country won praise for innovation from tech companies including Lucid Motors, Virgin Hyperloop One, and Formula E. Lucid Motors received $1 billion from Saudi Arabia.