By Staff writer
Human Rights Watch calls on authorities to go further; strip them of powers to enforce sex segregation
An international human rights group has applauded moves in Saudi Arabia to curtail the powers of the country’s religious police.
Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers issued a sweeping new regulation on April 13 which removed the authority of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice to arrest, pursue, or request documents or ID cards from suspects.
The new regulation will also require the religious police to clearly display official ID cards containing their name, position, branch, and official work hours. They would still have the authority to enforce sex segregation rules in public spaces.
“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, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities should go further and strip the religious police of the power to enforce sex segregation rules.”
The move to restrict religious police powers comes after several high profile incidents reported by local media and videos posted to social networking sites in which members are shown assaulting and harassing people.
The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is a governmental organisation and is responsible for policing morality issues such a public dress, mixing of the sexes, drugs, allegations of “sorcery and witchcraft” and insults to religion.
The new regulation goes beyond a 2013 reform, which allowed members to detain suspects only “with the support of accompanying policemen", Human Rights Watch said.
It added that the king must now pass an implementing regulation to define in detail the responsibilities of the religious police.
King Salman should remove the group’s authority to enforce sex segregation rules, which have a disproportionately negative impact on women, Human Rights Watch said.
“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 added.