RIYADH - Hardline Saudi clerics have called on the government to ban women from appearing on television and to prohibit their images in print media, which they called a sign of growing "deviant thought."
In a letter to new Information Minister Abdul Aziz al-Khoja that appeared on websites this week, the 35 Islamic clerics also condemned the increase of music and dancing on television, as well as images of women in popular newspapers and magazines that they labelled "obscene."
"Our faith in you is great to carry out media reform, for we have seen how perversity is rooted in the ministry of information and culture, on television, radio, in the press, literary clubs, and book fairs," the letter said.
It cited an alleged plan to "westernise" Saudi women by "reducing their rights to a question of removing veils, wearing makeup and mixing with men."
It added that the ministry had permitted the import of "obscene newspapers and magazines that are filled with deviant thought and pictures of beautiful women on its covers and inside."
"There should be no Saudi woman on television, in any case," they said.
"There is no doubt that this is religiously impermissible."
The clerics, including justice officials and academics from a conservative Islamic university, cited several cabinet-endorsed orders and policies from years past which they said supported their argument.
They appeared to be challenging a growing push for liberalisation of tough restrictions on women, including near-mandatory use of black, full-face veils, which are rooted in its ultra-conservative Wahhabi version of Islam.
Both Saudi television and print media increasingly feature women, while Arabic-language magazines showing women in Western garb and makeup are also widely sold in the country.
The letter came in the wake of an information ministry-sponsored book fair in Riyadh in early March at which religious conservatives complained that men and women were allowed to mix freely, and that some books on sale violated Islamic principles.
The book fair was marred by the muttawa, or Islamic morality police, harassing a woman author promoting her book and trying to prevent men from obtaining her autograph.