News report yesterday from leading Arabic newspaper in the Kingdom featured Sheikh Muhammad Al-Rifai, director of the Yanbu Branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, that “all branches of the commission were notified of the Interior Ministry’s decision, which stipulates that the role of the commission ends once the suspect is arrested and handed over to the police.” Members of the commission are religious police called Muttawa’in.
The order was issued by the Interior Ministry in response to a complaint filed by a father of Saudi young man who was allegedly beaten to death when members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stormed his house in late May in the capital on the suspicion that his son was engaged in selling alcohol. The father has demanded execution of the persons responsible for his death.
Mr. Raid Qusti, a respected columnist of Arab News in his news report stated that the father would have turned his son to the authorities who has been suspected selling liquor if they showed up with a warrant for the arrest, “instead, they raided the place, never showed a piece of paper,” quoted in the news report.
Reuters on line news dated 15 July 2007 said “four members of the commission are also on trial for the death of a 50-year-old man who had been arrested for driving with an unrelated woman.”
These prompted the Saudi Interior Ministry to issue guidelines banning morality police from detaining suspects. The order follows previous efforts to regulate the activities of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, including a royal decree last year that they must deliver suspects to Interior Ministry police officers.
The order includes ban the commission on extracting confessions and inspections of morality police offices to ensure no one is being held there.
Internet online leading news source Reuters added that “Saudi critics say the body, whose members intervene to stop unrelated men and women from mixing in public and sometimes interrogate people to check if their beliefs fit with Saudi Arabia’s Islamic orthodoxy, is an affront to civil rights.”
However, world press another online news said, “The commission believes that the decision will not affect the role of the commission in confronting corruption and violations.” It pointed out that “a great burden has been lifted from the commission’s men and the number of men working in the field will increase, thus allowing them to play a more effective role.” Further, the commission members will have to take part in compulsory field training programs and attend awareness courses.
Mutawwa’in or religious police, who constitute the Committee to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, still have the power to arrest those who violate the law and the authority to enforce their duty by apprehending those persons who violates the strict standards of social behavior including the closing of commercial establishments during the five daily prayer observances and compliance with strict norms of public dress, and dispersing gatherings of women in public places.
However, they are not allowed to detain any suspect of a crime or violators of a certain law or ordinances; once apprehended, violators should be handed over to the police for proper questioning.