If there’s anything people living in Saudi Arabia fear most after the royal family and clerics, it’s the religious police.
Formally known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, aka Haia or Hayaa, this particular law-enforcement squad is responsible for making sure citizens do not violate Islamic code of conduct in public. Since these "moral" cops posses quite a lot of power, they often misuse their authority to harass people — especially women — for no reason whatsoever.
But all of that’s about to change, apparently.
Saudi Arabia has reportedly stripped the Haia of their powers to arrest, urging them to be “gentle and humane” while performing their duties.
“Neither the heads nor members of the Haia are to stop or arrest or chase people or ask for their IDs or follow them — that is considered the jurisdiction of the police or the drug unit,” said the latest regulations approved by the Saudi cabinet.
The officers will also be required to display proper identification, including name, post, jurisdiction and official working hours.
It might be a step in the right direction, however, considering the extent of reported abuses, stripping the so-called religious police of power to arrest is a slap on the wrist.
There will be no disciplining of the cops. The Haia will continue to perform their usual tasks, i.e. harassing people over their personal choices and actions, and will report the culprits to other police departments.
Similar guidelines have been issued before. In 2013, Saudi authorities set limitations on the Haia’s power to interrogate suspects and press charges, though they were still allowed to arrest people.
However, under the changes announced this year, religious officers will no longer be allowed to take people into custody and instead must report suspects to police or drug squad officers.
The new restrictions come after some members of the Haia were caught on camera assaulting a young woman outside a mall in Riyadh.