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Saudi jailed for 'bragging' about sex

A young airline employee has been sentenced to five years, 1,000 lashes for talking up his sexual prowess on a controversial Lebanese TV show.

Outside the Grand Mosque after night prayers during the holy month of Ramadan in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 15, 2009. In Saudi Arabia, dating is not allowed, premarital sex is a crime and men and women are strictly separated in almost every activity. (Fahad Shadeed/Reuters)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A young airline ticket agent who scandalized Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative society by bragging about his sexual prowess on television was sentenced today to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

Mazen Abdul-Jawad, 32, who has been in jail awaiting trial since late July, was found guilty by a Saudi court of publicizing vice.

“They said he said bad words on TV about relationships with women,” Abdul-Jawad’s lawyer, Suliman Al Jimaie, replied when asked to explain the criminal charge.

The attorney, who said he will appeal the verdict and sentencing, said his client denies making the controversial comments in a July 15 broadcast of “Bold Red Line,” a program on the satellite television channel Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC).

In addition to claiming that his first sexual experience was with a neighbor at age 14, Abdul-Jawad described how he picked up women by sending them messages on Bluetooth. He also showed off his bedroom, about which he said: “Everything happens in this room.”

Jimaie charged that LBC heavily edited the taped interview and altered what Abdul-Jawad said through dubbing. “It’s what you call a montage,” Al Jimaie said. “They showed him not in a real way. ... They changed his words.”

In a country where dating is not allowed, premarital sex is a crime and men and women are strictly separated in almost every activity — from schools to sports to public libraries — Abdul-Jawad’s comments were seen as promoting sinful behavior and violating all norms of propriety. Saudi judges are religious scholars who rule according to Islamic law, or Shariah law.

The father of four, who is separated from his wife, has been roundly denounced in the local press for his candid talk. He’s been called a “sexual braggart” and “promoter of vice,” even as his legal predicament is front page news.

More than 200 offended Saudis filed legal complaints against him, and some called for his execution. One sheikh compared his actions to treason.

The episode illustrates the very puritanical public attitude towards sex in Saudi Arabia, where people may be open about their sex life in private but never speak about it publicly. 

It is a reticence unfamiliar in the United States, where only last week late-night TV host David Letterman won a round of robust applause when he admitted having sexual affairs with women on his staff. Letterman’s admission came as he disclosed that he had been targeted in a blackmailing scheme.

Soon after Abdul-Jawad's controversial interview aired, the Saudi government shut down LBC’s two offices in Riyadh and Jeddah. LBC has said from the beginning that it will not comment on the incident.

The satellite television channel is controlled by billionaire Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz. He is regarded as a liberalizing force in the kingdom, pushing for greater cultural freedoms for Saudi youth. He was a sponsor, for example, of the Jeddah Film Festival scheduled for last July. The Interior Ministry ordered it shut down at the last minute, with no explanation.