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Mon 21 Dec 2015 12:44 PM

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Saudi Arabia to reign in religious police powers

Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice have been involved in multiple controversial incidents

Saudi Arabia to reign in religious police powers
Saudi Shoura Council (Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia may reign in the powers afforded to the kingdom’s ‘religious police’ following several controversial incidents.

The influential Shoura Council is due to vote on Monday whether to better clarify the role and rights of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (also known as Haia or the religious police) by issuing specific guidelines for the body’s members, according to a report by Arab News.

In one case, several members of the religious police were accused of causing the deaths of two brothers while pursuing them in a car chase in September, 2013.

Two of them were jailed while awaiting trial but in June 2014 a criminal court acquitted four Haia members of causing the brothers’ death.

However, a month later, the body’s own president, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Asheikh reportedly banned members from spying on residents and car chases and warned members not to show signs of extremism or religious fanaticism.

Haia members also are accused of excessive harassment of residents accused of not meeting the kingdom’s strict conservative rules and of detaining women who drive, despite the practice not being illegal.

Shoura member Abdullah Al Harbi, who proposed the motion, said it will help clarify Haia’s role and reduce mistakes by its members by limiting their authority in evaluating violations, Arab News reported.

“There are more than 10 million expatriates from different religions living in the kingdom. Most of them perform their religious rituals at their homes and in closed areas. While these expatriates have different social customs, they must be respected if they do not violate public laws,” he was quoted as saying.

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