Phone-Cam Confiscations Leave Shutterbugs Shuddering

RIYADH- Pilgrims and travelers to Saudi Arabia are finding their camera cell phones to be unwelcome visitors. Security officials are conducting intensive searches for the mobile phones equipped with cameras at border points and airports. Now, many pilgrims are thinking twice about bringing their camera cell phones along after hearing of confiscations at entry points.

“I have already advised my brother in Pakistan not to carry his cell phone equipped with camera when he comes for Haj this year,” ” said Sharif Kandil, a Pakistani marketing manager.

Kandil said he saw reports about pilgrims and other foreign visitors who either surrendered their mobiles to Saudi officials or had them confiscated because of the camera lens. In some cases, they just lose their camera phones.

“The camera phones are being confiscated despite the fact that a number of Saudis and expatriates have been using these phones in the Kingdom,” said Kandil.

“Saudi Arabia, which has some eight million mobile users with an annual growth rate of about 30 percent, has become a profitable destination to smuggle camera phones,” said another user on the condition of anonymity.

An industry report predicts continued sales growth for all sorts of phone instruments, including camera phones. The Kingdom imports around six million cell phones a year, with 70 percent of consumers regularly replacing their mobiles. Sources predict the value of black-market cell phones will surpass SR1 billion if the ban on camera phones continues.

Many Umrah pilgrims hoping to take some photos during the rituals have reported intensive searches for camera cell phones at Saudi airports and highway border crossings. Authorities ask visitors if they have camera cell phones. “If they do, then the Saudi officials ask the visitor to keep his SIM card and surrender the handset in exchange for a token to reclaim their handset on the way out,” Ahmed Hassan, an Emirati Umrah pilgrim, told Arab News. “Otherwise, the officials scratch the lens of the camera cell phone with a glass-cutter to disable the function.”

Saudi Arabia banned the import and sale of camera cell phones in March; this is the first Haj under the new rules. News reports remain ambiguous about the ban while some reports say cell phone shutterbugs risk having their phones confiscated and being fined or jailed up to a year.

A report quoting the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, had publicly condemned as un-Islamic trading in camera-equipped mobile phones, which “could be exploited to photograph and spread vice in the community.

Asked about the mobile use in Saudi Arabia, Waheed Salloum Al-Aali, a Saudi who uses a camera phone, said “a growing number of people in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam are using these phone sets.’

He acknowledged there have been some instances in which these phones were misused, including disturbances at public gatherings and weddings earlier this year. Arab News reported earlier this month that four Saudi ministries separately submitted requests to the Royal Court for the ban to be lifted.

Add Comment