Dozens of Saudi extremists descended on the Riyadh International Book Fair late Wednesday night denouncing the sale of books "contrary to Islam," witnesses said.
Turki al-Shalil, a spokesman for the powerful Saudi religious police, told reporters that his men were not involved in the incident According to one witness, dozens of bearded young men entered the venue in the capital as the Saudi information minister, Abdel Aziz Khoja, was touring the fair on the first day it was open to the public.
They asked Khoja "how he could allow such a fair," and said that certain books on display were the work "of infidels who would go to hell," the witness said.
Another witness said that the men went around the fair harassing women, a number of whom then departed, and also prevented a female television presenter from doing her job.
The Riyadh International Book Fair is an annual event attended by a number of Saudis, and censorship on books there is less stringent than that against bookstores in the kingdom. According to the Sabq.org news website, three of the hardliners have been arrested.
Khoja on his Facebook page on Thursday criticised "the harassment of visitors and publishers," and said that the fair is "a cultural showcase for our country."
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or the religious police, ensures the strict application of the country's ultra-conservative Wahhabi version of Islam.