A Saudi poet was arrested at his workplace and taken to the religious police headquarters for allegedly writing "heretic" poetry containing "sorcery symbols."
Four officers from the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice stormed the office of Saudi poet Rushdi al-Dawsari in a Dammam company on Tuesday morning.
After a verbal dispute that ended with punches, Dawsari was forced to go to the commission headquarters for publishing a poem that alleged contained sorcery.
"While I was at work I got a phone call from the security at the company telling me that some people are waiting for me. When I did not go down, they came up to my office," the award-winning poet told AlArabiya.net.
Three bearded, well-built men entered his office, while a fourth waited in the unmarked car, Dawsari recounted. They were not accompanied by a police officer as is customary.
"One of them grabbed my arm and said, 'come with us, you licentious heretic.' One of them punched me, and I punched him back."
Dawasri added that he was worried about his image at work, so he had to go with them to the commission's headquarters, , where officers showed him some of his poems on the internet and charged him with promoting sorcery.
"I told them these texts require aesthetic, and not religious, analysis and that those who quote heresy are not heretics," he explained to AlArabiya.net
Dawasri received the Contemporary Literature Award for Poetry in Warsaw for his poem Shahadet Sareer (A Bed Testimony) and has taken part in several poetry readings inside and outside Saudi Arabia.
In his poem "Poetic Sorcery," Dawasri used a paragraph from the sorcery book Shams al-Maaref (The Sun of Knowledge) by Aboul Abbas al-Bouni.
Sorcery is against the law in Saudi Arabia and carries a heavy penalty, including death.
Dawasri was detained for eight hours and was not allowed to use the phone. He said those who detained him did not have badges and he assumed they were waiting to turn him in to someone, but this someone did not show up.
"Looks like they disagreed about me," he said.
The officers then forced him to write a pledge vowing to stop writing "heretic and sorcery poetry" and to stop publishing poems on the internet. They also warned him not to mention the incident.
"I had to sign to get out of this crisis," Dawasri said.
The following day Dawasri filed a complaint at the police station and said he is awaiting a response from the authorities.
The Saudi Interior Ministry imposed restrictions on the Commission regarding detentions and interrogations after officers committed violations including illegal detention.
According to the new rules, the Commission's role ends as soon as it hands an alleged offender over to the police. Commission officers are also not allowed to detain anyone at their headquarters.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)