First fame, then ar­rest for Saudi teenage vlog­ger

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

When a teenager in Saudi Ara­bia be­gan chat­ting up an Amer­i­can woman online, he first found fame and then no­to­ri­ety be­fore he was ar­rested over con­cerns that his clumsy cy­ber flir­ta­tion vi­o­lated the king­dom’s con­ser­va­tive norms. The teenager, known only by his online name of ‘Abu Sin’, a ref­er­ence to his crooked teeth, speaks al­most no English. Christina Crock­ett, a 21-year-old vlog­ger from Cal­i­for­nia, speaks no Ara­bic.

Even so, they man­aged to cre­ate goofy, light-hearted videos in which they ap­pear fas­ci­nated by one an­other. The spec­ta­cle of the two try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate at­tracted mil­lions of view­ers both in­side the king­dom and abroad. As a re­sult, Abu Sin shot to fame on the livestream­ing site YouNow, re­ceiv­ing nearly 6.5 mil­lion views of his videos.

In one of their most-watched videos from YouNow, Abu Sin tells Crock­ett: “I am Saudi Ara­bia.” Wear­ing a low-cut tank top, she smiles and re­sponds with a flick of her blonde hair: “That’s cool, I’m Amer­ica.” Through­out the con­ver­sa­tion, he pe­ri­od­i­cally blurts out in Ara­bic, “what’s she say­ing!?” Ap­pear­ing ner­vous and ex­cited, he later of­fers her some of the few English words he knows, pro­claim­ing: “I love you too. I love you too. I love you too.” She tells him: “Aw, I don’t even know what you’re say­ing, but I love you so much.”

Their ex­changes took on ex­tra sig­nif­i­cance in Saudi Ara­bia, where un­re­lated men and women sel­dom see one an­other. Al­most all public spa­ces are gen­der seg­re­gated and most women cover their face, hair and bod­ies in bil­low­ing black cloth. While the con­ver­sa­tions ap­pear harm­less, Saudi me­dia out­lets say the teen was de­tained late last month for “un­eth­i­cal be­hav­ior” due to the videos. Footage posted online on Sept. 25 pur­ports to show his ar­rest, and Abu Sin’s YouNow site, on which he used to post al­most daily, had not been up­dated for 13 days.

In Saudi Ara­bia, where the In­ter­net has be­come the pre­ferred fo­rum for young Saudis to meet and ex­press them­selves, his ar­rest sparked mixed re­ac­tions. Abu Sin’s videos could con­sti­tute a vi­o­la­tion of the coun­try’s cy­ber­crime law, which pro­hibits pro­duc­ing ma­te­rial that harms public or­der, morals or re­li­gious val­ues, ac­cord­ing to lawyer Ab­dul­rah­man Al-La­hem. He may also be found in con­tempt of the king­dom’s some­times un­yield­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law. La­hem was quoted in the Saudi news­pa­per, Okaz, as say­ing the teenager could con­se­quently face be­tween one and three years in prison.

In com­ments to the Saudi Gazette daily, Riyadh Po­lice spokesman Col Fawaz Al-May­man said Crock­ett and Abu Sin made “en­tic­ing videos” that “be­came fa­mous and re­ceived neg­a­tive at­ten­tion.” He said po­lice had re­ceived re­quests from the Saudi public de­mand­ing Abu Sin be pun­ished. Af­ter his ar­rest, the case was for­warded to the Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion and Public Pros­e­cu­tion, May­man said. The In­te­rior Min­istry did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to an AP re­quest for fur­ther de­tails on the case. Abu Sin’s real name has not been made public. May­man said he is 19 years old.

The Saudi daily Arab News wrote that peo­ple in the king­dom ar­gue the teenager de­serves to be tried be­cause his videos “made peo­ple laugh (at us).” In an op-ed for the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat news­pa­per, prom­i­nent Saudi com­men­ta­tor Mishari Al-Thaidy said the in­ci­dent raised se­ri­ous ques­tions about how young peo­ple in the king­dom are be­ing raised.

Yet in an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished Sun­day, Arab News wrote that if Abu Sin was in­deed ar­rested based on the de­mands of public opin­ion, then “let it be known that this pub­lished opin­ion be­lieves Abu Sin should be re­leased ... and given his own tele­vi­sion show!” “When did be­ing ‘silly’ ever be­come a crime?” the ed­i­to­rial con­tin­ued.

Crock­ett re­leased a video say­ing she doesn’t re­ally un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion in Saudi Ara­bia, but that many peo­ple are blam­ing her as the rea­son for his ar­rest. “Ob­vi­ously, I think this whole sit­u­a­tion is to­tally crazy and un­fair, but I don’t feel I should be get­ting any hate for this be­cause I have no con­trol over it,” she said. “It’s not my fault that it went vi­ral. It’s not my fault that he got this fame from it or that I got it. Nei­ther of us asked for it.” — AP

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