Torture, arbitrary arrests, violations of rights, abuse: the Saudi Society for Human Rights has presented a long and detailed list of accusations against the religious police in its 100-page report to the Shoura Council, the highest advisory body in the kingdom.
The report essentially charges the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the official name of what is ordinarily called the muttawa, of "exercising excessive powers that are actually not in its jurisdiction."
The report comes as the Commission finds itself the target of unprecedented criticisms on the part of the media, and after King Abdullah in February replaced its head, Shaikh Ebrahim Al Gaith, with Shaikh Abdul Aziz Bin Humaid. The men of the muttawa are a de facto police force charged with enforcing the rules on the separation of sexes, dress, and respect for the duty to pray. They also intervene in matters like the elimination of "signs" for the feast of Saint Valentine: for this holiday, they ordered florists and shops in the capital to remove any red-colored items.
Although the document from the Society for Human Rights speaks of the behavior of "men" of the muttawa who have not followed their instructions, the striking thing is the confirmation of the accusations made against the religious police in recent years. "There were several complaints about the torture and even custodial deaths against the members of the commission," the document reads. Often these incidents ended up in the newspapers, but "in such cases, the commission officials have resorted to blaming the media and playing down the reports as exaggerated ones." "It has been confirmed that there were several cases in which the commission members had taken custody of many individuals and subjecting them to various sorts of interrogation and torture. In some cases, mobile phones of the detainees were snatched by the commission members and even denied permission to contact with family members."
Finally, the report asks the new president of the Commission to issue precise guidelines and repair the damage done. "The Presidency should issue work card for the members to specify their role and conduct periodical training courses to improve their efficiency besides taking measures to repair damage caused to the image of the commission."