(JTA) — The man who assisted Israeli journalist Gil Tamary in entering Mecca has been arrested, Saudi Arabia announced on Friday.
Mecca is Islam’s holiest city and off limits to non-Muslims. Tamary filmed a report from there last week, which broadcast on Israeli TV on Tuesday, quickly drawing ire for his decision to violate Islamic and Saudi Arabian law.
To protect the safety of the guide Tamary had recruited, the Israeli outlet blurred his face and distorted his voice. Over the course of the broadcast, Tamary describes the guide growing increasingly nervous but insists that they climb Mount Arafat for a better view. At one point the guide can be heard saying, “This whole thing is illegal.” At another, he deploys their agreed-upon signal indicating that it was time to leave.
The broadcast drew fierce criticism in Saudi Arabia and Israel alike, and Tamary apologized, saying he had not meant to offend Muslims and filmed the segment to educate Israelis about Islam. Now, both he and his guide are facing legal consequences.
The guide has been referred to prosecutors for allegedly being “complicit in transferring and facilitating the entry of a (non-Muslim) journalist holds the citizenship of the United States of America to the holy city of Makkah by passing through a path dedicated for Muslims only in an explicit violation of the laws that prohibit entry to Makkah for non-Muslims,” according to a press release issued by the Saudi Press Agency on Friday.
Tamary, too, is being referred for prosecution, according to the release. But he is unlikely to set foot in Saudi Arabia again to face consequences: He was there to cover U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip, which marked the first time that journalists had been able to travel from Israel to Saudi Arabia. (Journalists traveling on Israeli passports were unable to accompany Biden, but Tamary holds American citizenship.)
Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s harshest judicial systems, hewing firmly to Islamic law for many crimes. Reforms announced last year by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are seen as likely to make the penal code more predictable but not less harsh. The country executed 81 people in a single day in March.