DUBAI - A Saudi cleric has issued a religious decree saying the owners of television networks broacasting "depravation and debauchery" may be killed, Al-Arabiya television reported on Friday.
"The owners of these channels propagate depravation and debauchery," said Saleh al-Luhaidan, chief justice of the supreme judicial council, the highest judicial authority in the ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom.
He made the remarks on radio in response to a caller who asked him to give an opinion on what he said were "immoral" programmes on Arab television, a source at Al-Arabiya said.
"It is lawful to kill ... the apostles of depravation... if their evil cannot be easily removed through simple sanctions," Luhaidan said, according to excerpt of the remarks broadcast on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya.
The situation is "serious ... the degradation of morals is a form of perversion on earth," he added.
Recordings of the show were posted on web sites and passed around by mobile phone message in Saudi Arabia.
During Ramadan, when Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk, Arab satellite televisions broadcast lavish productions, including soap operas and mini-series, some with historical and religious themes, as well as game shows.
A popular soap that was broadcast by Al-Arabiya for several weeks preceeding Ramadan already stirred passions in Saudi Arabia, where the grand mufti branded it "subversive" and "anti-Islamic."
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, head of Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority, earlier this year issued a fatwa against "Noor" and decreed that any channel broadcasting the series is "an enemy of God and his Prophet."
The Turkish-made soap opera dubbed into Arabic tells the story of Mohannad and his equally stunning wife Noor as they wrestle to reconcile the conflicting pressures of traditional and modern worlds.
Al-Arabiya is a news channel based in Dubai and part of the Saudi group MBC.
But there were other series that did not manage to escape the censorís ban.
Although key members of the Saudi royal family have promoted liberal reforms, many hardline clerics continue to express extreme views.
Observers say the Saudi government has failed to reign in its own clerics at a time it is fighting rebel extremist throughout the country.
Gulf analysts say the gap between the rulers of Saudi Arabia, who are pushing for more openness in the kingdom, and their increasingly conservative society continues to widen.
Many powerful clerics, despite their loyalty to the royal family, continue to hold on to views that embarrass the Saudi government.
The Saudi religious decree has attracted strong condemnation from media workers across the Arab Gulf.