Saudi religious police report increase in arrests

Annual report shows 19% more than last year


Inappropriate displays of affection, mixing between unmarried men and women and offensive writing are a few of the crimes the Saudi religious police are tasked with monitoring, and they appear to be on the rise if recent arrest rates are anything to go by

A report issued by the Saudi religious police indicated a remarkable increase in the number of arrests as well as in the type of cases it dealt with over the past year, local press reported Tuesday, with 19 percent more arrests this year than last.

The annual report of the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice indicated that only 27 percent of the 434,000 people who were arrested were Saudi.

Eighty-five percent of Saudi cases resulted in the defendants writing pledges not to commit the offnense again while 17,000 were referred to the relevant authorities, the Saudi edition of the London-based newspaper al-Hayat reported Tuesday.

The rest of the arrests were foreign residents, of which 92 percent ended in pledges while eight percent were referred to the relevant authorities.

The reasons for the arrests varied, but most cases were related to religion, public decency, and drugs. Possession of pornographic material and blackmail also figured among the cases. Most cases that were not referred to the authorities were closed in compliance with the principle of satr, or concealment, an Islamic concept that advises not disgracing sinners if possible.

Mecca ranked first in the report with 114,844 arrests, followed by Riyadh with 105,085.

The commission presidency called in the report for hiring more security personnel in all the headquarters, especially since some stations have no security at all. The report also recommended increasing the budget and paying an extra 20 percent to the commission's field officers and providing them with wireless communication.

Among the requests in the report was the creation of a television programs dedicated to highlighting the commission's achievements. The commission said it wanted right to defend itself before the media and respond to all unjustified criticisms.

The religious police have been the target of criticism over the past year for exceeding its authority, unlawfully arresting and detaining suspects and causing car crashes during suspect chases. Earlier this month the commission announced a new council tasked with monitoring its activities.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)