06/22/2007, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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For the first time charges laid against religious police agents

Mutawwa'în agents are involved in the death of a detained man, whose death was officially ruled for natural causes. Probe into the death of another man is also underway, beaten to death for alcohol possession according to his father.
Riyadh (AsiaNews) – For the first time three members of the Mutawwa'în, Saudi Arabia’s religious police will stand trial on Saturday for their involvement in the death of a Saudi man who was in their custody at a detention centre in the northern city of Tabuk three weeks ago.
Arab News reports that the three agents of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Mutawwa'în formal name, detained a man, Ahmed Al-Bulawi, after they observed a woman getting into his car at an amusement park. Both the man and woman were arrested on suspicion of being in a state of illegal seclusion (when a man is alone with a woman who is not a relative). Whilst at the detention (virtue) centre, the man collapsed and died.
An early statement by the Governorate of Tabuk said that medical reports showed that the man died of natural causes. But it was later revealed that the man was innocent since he was working for the woman’s family as a driver.
Five members of Mutawwa'în were investigated. Two were cleared of any wrongdoing but the other three were remanded into the custody of the General Investigation and Prosecution Authority to determine what rights were violated.
The governor of Tabuk, Prince Fahd ibn Sultan, after saying that “nobody is above the law,” paid SR 50,000 (US$ 13,000) from his own pocket to the deceased’s wife and eleven children.
The investigation into a second incident that resulted in the death of another Saudi man in custody of the Mutawwa'în in Riyadh last month is now in its final stages. Suspecting that Sulaiman Al-Huraisi in Al-Uraijah District might have alcohol, agents raided his home.
The Governorate of Riyadh later reported that large quantities of alcohol were found in the man’s home. In addition to Mr al-Huraisi, all family members who were in the house at the time were detained. However, he was apparently beaten to death according to his father who pressed charges. The outcome of the investigation is expected soon.
Whatever may come of the individual probes, the fact that they are actually taking place, that charges are being laid against agents of the powerful commission are a sign that something is happening in Saudi Arabia.
Pro-government Arab News reported that various writers in the local media demanded more accountability from the commission; some even charged the Mutawwa'în with “abuse of authority.”
At a press conference held ten days ago, commission President Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith responded to the charges announcing that a “Department of Rules and Regulations” would be set up to assist commission members if they are unsure of something or need legal advice.
 
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