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Saudi Arabia's religious police told to look, not touch

A video of a religious police member hitting a woman went viral [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 April, 2016

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Saudi Arabia has reportedly issued new guidelines for its notorious religious police force, scaling back their powers to a more 'observational' role after complaints of brutality, fear and humiliation.

Saudi Arabia reportedly issued new guidelines restricting the role of the country's notorious Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - commonly known as the religious police.

According to the new regulations - published in Saudi press - the religious police's role will be restricted to observing infringements and violations of religious codes and reporting them to the police rather than acting on transgressions.

The ministerial guidelines state that only the police and anti-drug units are permitted to take action against violators, such as requesting to see identification, pursuing and interrogating suspects and making arrests.

Members of the religious police are also required to clearly present their identification during interactions with members of the public.

The new regulations are seen as groundbreaking, as they severely restrict the authority of the controversial religious police force, which have been unchallenged by Riyadh for decades.

However, the group has come under increasingly criticism in recent years for their often harsh and unforgiving approach to law enforcement.

Last year, a man in his 20s fell to his death from the roof of his building as he was being pursued by members of the religious police over "moral transgressions" in al-Qassim province.

Numerous videos documenting violations of the religious police against members of the public have also been widely shared and damaged the force's image.

One such video shows a force member verbally assaulting and kicking a young woman out of a shop for not wearing gloves. This is despite the fact that the woman was dressed in an abaya, the loose flowing garment all women must wear in Saudi Arabia.

The force was also accused of accused of using pornographic images to entrap online victims.

The Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in the southern Asir province filed a complaint against the religious police force last year for luring "cybercrime" suspects. 

The Asir prosecutors received a complaint from one of the victims, who said they were sent graphic images by members of the religious police - posing as women online - and then arrested following a sting operation.

Saudi Arabia is still run according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law - which is governed by the Wahabbi ulama - and includes punishments such as public beheadings.

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