x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Saudi religious police held after deadly car chase

Four members of the notorious religious police arrested for causing the death of a man and injuring his wife and two children in a car chase.

RIYADH // Saudi authorities arrested four members of the notorious religious police who allegedly caused the death of a man and the injury of his wife and two children in a car chase, local media reported yesterday.

"Security services arrested four members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice after they were interrogated [on Sunday] over the chase that killed a man and injured his wife and two children in Al Baha" in the south-west, Okaz daily reported.

The men will be charged with "abusing power, chasing a man with his family while ignoring instructions given to members of the committee completely banning chases", the newspaper quoted a religious police official as saying.

The feared religious police sometimes use unmarked cars to chase those they suspect of violating Sharia, such as unmarried couples.

The English-language Saudi Gazette reported that the family was approached by a member of the committee "who complained their car stereo was on loudly".

The victim, identified by local media as 34-year-old Abdulrahman AL Ghamidi, then left with his family following an argument with the policeman who chased them, it said.

"The man's wife, who was five months pregnant, sustained severe contusions and abrasions and doctors say her right hand may be amputated," said the newspaper. "The couple's son was in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit while their four-year-old daughter was in stable condition."

The ruler of Al Baha, Prince Mashari bin Saud bin Abdul Aziz, said he was "appalled at the manner" in which the religious police acted and that a committee had been instructed to investigate the incident, state news agency SPA reported. "All those linked to the accident have been arrested and are being interrogated... those responsible will be punished," and such incidents will not happen again, he said, according to the SPA.

Relatively moderate Sheikh Abdullatiff Abdel Aziz Al Sheikh, appointed in January as the new chief of the religious police, has raised hopes that a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the country.

Two weeks in post, he banned volunteers from serving in the commission which enforces the kingdom's strict Islamic rules. In April he went further, prohibiting the religious police from "harassing people" and threatening "decisive measures against violators".

The religious police prevent women from driving, require them to be covered from head to foot in black, ban public entertainment and force all businesses, from supermarkets to petrol stations, to close for prayers five times a day.