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Saudi culture minister defends freedom of expression

“We never silenced critics”: Dr. Abdul-Aziz Khoja

Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Abdul-Aziz Khoja defended the status of freedom of expression in the kingdom and stressed that critics have never been silenced, in a meeting with intellectuals on the sidelines of the 2011 Riyadh International Book Fair,

“The Ministry of Culture and Information has never exercised suppression of any kind towards any one,” he said. “We have never censored writings that criticized the kingdom or silenced critics.”

Khoja called upon intellectuals to assume their responsibility in the society and argued that the ministry will never replace society as far as leading cultural life is concerned.

“You are intellectuals who produce culture and not just employees in cultural institutions. Your responsibility is huge especially in cultural forums.”

The minister stated that the ministry will not interfere in setting plans for the allocation of the latest royal fund for cultural forums and which amounted to 160 million Saudi riyals.

“The ministry’s interference will be purely administrative, yet the ministry is willing to help in any other way.”

Khoja denied allegations by a group of conservatives that the Riyadh International Book Fair contained books that violated Islamic teachings.

“The ministry checks the books on display in the fair and there was nothing against Islamic principles. There might be loopholes and it is possible that we make mistakes.”

The same, he added, applies to Saudi channels which were also accused of broadcasting "unethical" content.

“The problem is that when we ask about the nature of this material or when it was seen, they reply that they don’t watch those channels. How can you judge something without seeing it?”

When asked about the row stirred by several conservatives who objected to the books displayed in the fair, Khoja answered that they practice “exclusion under the umbrella of faith” since they call for banning what they do not approve through claiming that it violates Islamic principles.

“We are against exclusion and call for establishing dialogue about differences in a civilized manner,” he concluded.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid).

We are against exclusion and call for establishing dialogue about differences in a civilized manner

Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Abdul-Aziz Khoga