06/11/2007, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Under attack, the religious police announce a small reform

Following the arrest of 18 of its men, involved in the death of three people, the “muttawa” institutes a legal department. Even the Saudi Society for Human Rights accuses the group of extorting confessions “by use of force”.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – The creation of a “Department of Rules and Regulations” is the first and so far the only, affect of recent accusations and criticism against the muttawa, Saudi Arabia’s powerful religious police.  Linked to the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the muttawa persecutes those who drink alcohol, those who do not dress according to the dictates of Islamic rules or who behave in an “immoral” fashion, but they also serve to repress all religious activity, even private celebrations, not in line with wahabita Islam.

The 41 thousand strong muttwa force accused of the widespread use of torture, has found itself in the eye of a storm following the arrest of 18 of its men, charged with the death of two Saudi men in Riyadh and Tabuk, and the suicide of a domestic worker in Gedda, who through herself from the window of a building they had raided.  Moreover, in its first report the somewhat reticent National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Saudi Arabia accused the group of “extorting confessions by force” along with other violations, to the point of asking for changes in the institutional law of the same Commission.

Now, the president of the Commission, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, in response to the accusations of illegal behaviour has announced the creation of the Department, “for consultation by commission members if they are unsure of something or need legal advice”.

By and large, Al-Ghaith, during a press conference reported by Arab News, was forced to defend actions of muttawa servicemen, who are being accused not only of the three deaths “still under investigation”, but also of the using information illegally gathered, for example from mobile phones.  Mobiles are only confiscated if they are part of the criminal offence”, he replied to the charges.  But he failed to comment on the issue of “forced confessions”.

Among other charges laid, and denied, the enlisting of ex-prisoners and the existence of a fatwa which prohibits muttawa men from being tried.  There is only a fatwa – he concluded - by Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ibrahim, the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, which states that a virtue member does not need witnesses when he testifies”.

 

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