Authorities in Riyadh have arrested two Syrian men after harassing a group of women in a local cafe earlier this week, Sabq news site reported.
The detainments came just hours after a video capturing the incident went viral on social media. The footage was uploaded on Snapchat by one of the arrested men. In it, the men can be heard verbally harassing the women as they approach their table. They then try to flirt with them. One of the women can later be heard amicably speaking to the men but it remains unclear if she was acquainted with them or not.
In an official statement on the matter, the spokesman for the Riyadh police department, Chaker bin Suleiman Al Tuwaijiri, said the incident took place inside a cafe located inside the premises of a residential compound.
He also confirmed that the two men, both in their thirties, will face legal consequences for "uploading inappropriate material online and disrespecting Saudi Arabia's public taste laws."
Police, however, did not disclose whether the men will be tried under the country's anti-sexual harassment law. However, if they are prosecuted under the legislation, they can face up to two years in jail and a fine of 100,000 riyals ($26,663).
The latest case of harassment comes at a time when the country is changing the way it deals with harassers, passing on stricter sentences against them. The kingdom aims to curb the continuous increase in sexual harassment cases that are often reported to authorities in the kingdom.
In recent months, Saudis raised alarm over the fact that authorities weren't properly applying the anti-sexual harassment law. They explained how incidents are reported only when they go viral; legal outcomes or punishments remain hidden from the public.
The latest case sparked public outrage
The footage stirred up quite the controversy online, but not in the way you'd expect. Many commentators absurdly accused the women of "inciting harassment." Some went as far as blaming the women for sitting in a mixed-gender cafe. One man, in particular, called them "loose," accusing them of asking for the men's attention.
What these commentators don't realize is that when men call women names, hoot at them from afar, or go up to their table as part of a dare — it's harassment.
The men who uploaded the videos on Snapchat didn't only harass the group of women but also dared a few others to go over to their table to "enjoy shisha with them."
Sexual harassment continues to be an issue in Saudi Arabia
Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia passed an anti-harassment law, such incidents still happen on a daily basis.
According to a 2014 study, nearly 80 percent of women (aged 18 to 48) said they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the kingdom.
The Institute for International Research, a Canadian institute specialized in research and field studies, found that Saudi Arabia witnessed an 11.4 percent increase in sexual harassment cases in 2016, compared to 2014.
The country has been taking action against the alarming rates of abuse. Police departments all over the kingdom have been making immediate arrests when any case of sexual assault is brought to their attention.