Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV runs an Agence France Presse report on new limits being put on Saudi Arabia’s religious police. The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has restricted the group’s ability to interrogate suspects and to press charges. Those functions are to be performed solely by the regular police and public prosecutors. The religious police still retain their power to effect certain arrests, but others must be handled by the regular police as well.

More curbs on Saudi religious police powers

Riyadh (AFP): Saudi Arabia has set new limitations on the powers of its notorious religious police, charged with ensuring compliance with Islamic morality but often accused of abuses, its chief said on Tuesday.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice “once had much expanded powers, but with the new system… some of these powers, such as interrogating suspects and pressing charges,” will be restricted to the police and public prosecution, Shaikh Abdul Latif Abdel Aziz Al Shaikh told AFP.

The religious police may still arrest those carrying out “flagrant offences such as harassing women, consuming alcohol and drugs, blackmail and the practice of witchcraft,” Shaikh said of the new law approved by the cabinet.

However, the cases of such people will be referred to the police and brought to justice, as the religious police will no longer have the right to determine charges against them, he said.

UPDATE: Asharq Alawsat runs an article with more information on both the changing philosophy and practices of the Commission.

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