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HRW welcomes Saudi move to curb religious police powers

NEW YORK: Human Rights Watch on Monday hailed Saudi Arabia’s decision to strip its frequently criticised religious police of many of their powers, urging the kingdom to also ease sex segregation rules. Under changes approved by the Saudi cabinet last week, religious officers will no longer be allowed to detain people and instead must report violators to police or...

SAMAA | - Posted: Apr 18, 2016 | Last Updated: 6 years ago
SAMAA |
Posted: Apr 18, 2016 | Last Updated: 6 years ago

HRW

NEW YORK: Human Rights Watch on Monday hailed Saudi Arabia’s decision to strip its frequently criticised religious police of many of their powers, urging the kingdom to also ease sex segregation rules.

Under changes approved by the Saudi cabinet last week, religious officers will no longer be allowed to detain people and instead must report violators to police or drug squad officers.

“This is a positive move for Saudi citizens and residents who have suffered years of harassment and abuse by the religious police,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

Members of the religious police, formally known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and informally as Mutawaa, can no longer stop or arrest or chase people or ask for their IDs or follow them, under the new regulations.

They should instead “carry out the duties of encouraging virtue and forbidding vice by advising kindly and gently”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The religious police enforce Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islam including segregation of the sexes and ensuring that women cover themselves from head-to-toe when in public.

They also patrol shops to make sure they are shuttered during Muslim prayers five times daily.

“The authorities should go further and strip the religious police of the power to enforce sex segregation rules,” said Whitson.

The commission’s tactics have regularly been the subject of controversy, most recently in February when members were arrested for allegedly assaulting a young woman outside a Riyadh shopping mall, local media said at the time.

A five-member advisory committee will in future make suggestions to the Mutawaa president — appointed by King Salman — on holding officers to account for any violations or abuse.

“Saudi Arabia has taken a step that could rein in longstanding religious police abuses, but authorities must enforce the new regulations for them to have any meaning,” Whitson said. – AFP

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