Leder av Saudi-Arabias høyeste domstol, Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan, ble spurt om hva man kan gjøre med all umoralen som spres over satellittkanalen. Svaret var enkelt: de kan drepes. Svaret vakte bestyrtelse for mange av kanalene eies av saudi-arabiske sheiker. Lihedan måtte rykke ut og presisere at de måtte stilles for retten.

Også flere andre religiøse ledere i Midtøsten tok avstand fra oppfordringen. Mediearbeidere ble skremt.

Arabs across the ideological spectrum, from secular-minded liberals to Muslim hard-liners, are denouncing a top Saudi cleric’s edict that it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV stations that show «immoral» content.

Many expressed worry the recent comments by Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan — chief of the kingdom’s highest tribunal, the Supreme Judiciary Council — would fuel terrorism, encouraging attacks on station employees and owners.

The edict, or fatwa, has also focused the spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s legal system because of al-Lihedan’s senior position in the judiciary. The system is run by Islamic cleric-judges, many of them hard-liners, and has increasingly been criticized by some Saudis because of the wide discretion judges have in punishing criminals and the perception that many judges are out of touch with the realities of the world.

Even conservative clerics who agree that Arab satellite networks show too many «indecent» programs said al-Lihedan had gone too far.

The controversy over al-Lihedan’s fatwa began a week ago, when the cleric was answering questions from callers to the daily «Light in the Path» religious program on Saudi state radio. One caller asked about Islam’s view of the owners of satellite TV channels that show «bad programs» during the holy month of Ramadan, which began more than two weeks ago.

«I want to advise the owners of these channels, who broadcast calls for such indecency and impudence … and I warn them of the consequences,» al-Lihedan said in the program. «Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it’s permissible to kill them.»

The remarks were especially surprising because many of the most popular Arab satellite networks are owned by Saudi princes and well-connected Saudi and Gulf businessmen.

On Sunday, reportedly under pressure from senior government figures, al-Lihedan appeared on Saudi state TV to explain his comments, apparently to prevent vigilante killings. He said owners should first be brought to trial and then sentenced to death if other penalties don’t deter them.

He said his «advice» was aimed at owners who broadcast witchcraft, indecent programs, shows mocking Islamic scholars or religious police and comedies inappropriate for Ramadan.

The edict chilled managers of satellite networks. Several channels based in Dubai declined comment. One network representative said the staff was taking the fatwa very seriously, but he did not want his name or channel revealed. «Why select yourself as a target by commenting on it?» he said.

For vestlige lesere kan det høres kuriøst ut, men for mediearbeidere i Midtøsten er det slett ikke humoristisk. En annen imam sa at Mickey Mouse burde drepes.

On Tuesday, another Saudi cleric, Sheik Mohammed Munajjid, said the cartoon character Mickey Mouse should be killed. Munajjid said in an interview with a religious Web site that under Islamic law, rats and mice are considered «repulsive» and as «soldiers of Satan.»

«For children they’ve become something great and beloved. Like this Mickey Mouse, who is seen as a great figure, even though under Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed,» said Munajjid, who is a well-known cleric but does not hold a government position.

Arabs denounce cleric’s fatwa on ‘immoral’ TV