7 Times The Saudi Religious Police Abused Their Power Over People

Saudi Arabia’s dangerous police force. Along with other law enforcement agencies, the morality police officers in Saudi Arabia make sure the sexes are separated in public and they do not do anything too Western.

Saudi Religious Police

However, the Gulf Kingdom’s religious police force, called the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, also known as Hayaa, or Mutawiyin (meaning the pious), has often been accused of abusing its powers.

Here are a few widely reported instances:

READ MORE: Young Man Arrested In Saudi Arabia For Giving Out Free Hugs

#1: Makeshift Church Raid

At least 27 men, women and children were reportedly arrested by morality police officers in the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji following a raid on a home, where a group of Christians had gathered to pray. Copies of the Bible and various musical instruments were also seized.

The incident sparked an international debate on freedom of religion in the country where being a non-Muslim isn’t illegal but practicing other faiths is.

A young Saudi national, Taha Khan was quoted by the International Business Times (India) saying, "Islam preaches peace. Hayaa these days have gone wild and stupid. There is no point of storming people's house; you are responsible for your own deeds. You won’t be asked at the day of judgment that non-Muslims were practicing their religions, why did you not storm their houses..."

#2: Briton Mall Assault

A British man and his wife were attacked by members of Saudi Arabia's religious police for using a women-only cash desk. A short video of the incident was also posted on YouTube.

Although many argued that the man named Peter Haworth was wrong to go against the country’s rules, others believe the police shouldn’t have assaulted him for taking their photograph.

A rare apology was later issued by the Hayaa.

#3: Businesswoman Sentenced For “Cursing”

Saudi Religious Police

A Saudi Arabian judge upheld a sentence of a month in prison and 50 lashes for a businesswoman convicted of insulting members of the morality police during an argument, according to the local al-Medina newspaper.

This verdict further strained relations between the official body and Saudi citizens who are becoming increasingly wary of the power abuse by the Hayaa force.

The woman was found guilty of "cursing the morality police" and calling them "liars," the Arabic-language daily reported.

#4: Actors’ Arrest

In June 2014, Saudi Arabia’s feared religious police stormed a TV filming site in the Gulf kingdom and arrested several actors because they were acting together in violation of local laws that ban gender mixing.

Sharq newspaper said the members ignored a permit issued by the Saudi information ministry for the TV team to shoot the episode at a shopping mall in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

#5: “Free Hugs” Punishment

Hayaa arrested 21-year-old man Abdulrahman al-Khayyal for publicly giving out free hugs in November 2013.

Inspired by a viral video of a campaign posted on YouTube, Khawal hit the streets of Saudi capital, Riyadh, along with a friend, carrying a sign that read "free hugs."

This public display of affection did not go down well with Riyadh's religious police, who promptly arrested the young man for his supposedly audacious and criminal actions.

#6: Valentine’s Day Detention

Saudi Religious Police

In February 2012, Saudi Arabia's religious police arrested more than 140 people for celebrating Valentine's Day, confiscating all red roses from shops.

In a six-page statement, the religious police said they were saving women from "deceiving men," who used the day to give the fake impression that they loved a woman while pretending to be a "harmless lamb."

#7: Imam From Canada Attack

In October 2011, a renowned Canadian Shiite imam Usama al-Atar who traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage was arrested in Medina after allegedly being beaten by the religious police.

This incident set off a scorching round of criticism for the way the pre-dominantly Sunni Kingdom treats its Muslim minority sect and how the Hayaa went a step ahead by assaulting al-Atar.

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