Saudi morals police may take press to court
Riyadh, May 26, 2009
Saudi Arabia's religious police said yesterday (May 25) they would sue some newspapers for defamation after they published reports of alleged abuses by the police.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has wide powers to search for alcohol, drugs and prostitution, ensure shops are shut at prayer time, ban non-Islamic worship and maintain a strict system of sexual segregation in Saudi society.
Over the past two months, Saudi newspapers have quoted Saudi citizens accusing members of the police of abusing them.
In some cases, the commission sought to defend itself through statements to the press but the newspapers quoted the same citizens contradicting the commission's statements.
"This is not about suing the press simply because they criticised the commission. We welcome criticism," said Abdul-Mohsen al-Qassari, the commission's spokesman.
"It is a reminder of the framework that has to govern the relationship between media and the commission."
There have been reports of road accidents, some of them fatal, when the morality police chased drivers suspected of being accompanied by females who were not relatives.
The interior ministry has made it unlawful for the religious police to arrest anyone in the absence of police.
Diplomats say some newspapers, encouraged by their owners who include members of the royal family, have adopted a pro-reform editorial line, especially regarding the religious police.
Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, head of the independent Human Rights First Society, has condemned the plans to sue journalists.
Some newspapers have been suspended over controversial articles. – Reuters