Bandr al-Swed heard about the Free Hugs Campaign in other countries, and liked the message of “brightening up” strangers’ days with random acts of hugging. So he figured he would give it a try in his own country, Saudi Arabia. So, al-Swed scribbled a “Free Hug” placard and took to the streets of Riyadh. Seemed innocent enough. “I liked the idea and thought it could bring happiness to Saudi Arabia,” al-Swed told Al Arabiya News. The 21-year-old told Al Arabiya the response from passersby was a good one, saying “it was welcomed with smiles and open arms.” So, as twentysomethings do, he posted a video of his day on Youtube, which, according to the Independent, inspired two more young Saudi men to give it a try.
Unfortunately, the Saudi religious police—a.k.a. the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—apparently don’t approve of hug-induced happiness and arrested the two young men for “indulging in exotic practices and offending public order,” according to the BBC. The two were then made to sign a pledge that they would no longer offer hugs. Even after the arrest, one of the young men, Abdulrahman al-Khayyal, told the Independent “he would continue to give out free hugs and he was proud of what he had done. He said he considered it an act of charity.”