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Saudi men arrested for seeking female writer's autograph

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  • Two Saudi male novelists detained after trying to get autograph of female writer
  • Abdu Khal and Abdullah Thabet were not charged with crime
  • Saudi Arabia's religious police can detain unrelated men, women caught socializing
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(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's religious police detained two male novelists for questioning last week after they attempted to get the autograph of a female writer at a book fair in Riyadh, according to local media reports.

According to the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Watan, Abdu Khal and Abdullah Thabet approached female writer Halima Muzfar when they were stopped by police.

Both novelists, who were held for questioning but not charged with a crime, are demanding an apology from the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The commission, feared by many Saudis, is made up of several thousand religious policemen charged with, among other things, enforcement of dress codes, mandatory observance of prayer times and segregation of the sexes.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism and punishes unrelated men and women who are caught mingling in public.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz announced in February a major Cabinet reshuffling in which many hardline conservatives, including the head of the commission, were dismissed and replaced with younger, more moderate members.

The new appointments represented the largest shakeup since King Abdullah took power in 2005, and were welcomed in Saudi Arabia as progressive moves on the part of the king, who is seen by many as a reformer.

One of the writers, Khal, told Al-Watan that he doesn't believe the new leadership endorses actions like those of the commission members who detained him.

"It seems that the relationship between the committee and the intellectuals is based on animosity and hostility and perhaps that is shown from the fashion in which they treated us," he said.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom and Saad Abedine contributed to this report.

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