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HRW hails Saudi move to curb religious police powers

Published: Updated:

Human Rights Watch on Monday hailed Saudi Arabia’s recent announcement which identified the powers of the Saudi Committee of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (often referred to as “religious police”) and revoked its ability to pursue and detain.

“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, known 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 citing the decree.

“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.

Last week, the Saudi cabinet issued a decree which sought to organize the framework of committee’s operation.

Under the approved changes, religious officers will no longer be allowed to detain people and instead must report violators to police or the kingdom’s anti-narcotics officers.

The decree also stipulated the criteria of which members of the committee are selected; it states that they must have sufficient educational qualifications, a good reputation and no criminal record or ruling against them prior to joining.

Each member of the committee will now also be required to wear a photo ID card while on duty. A detailed translation of last week cabinet decree can be found here.