Five of the Mutaween were arrested on Monday following recent deaths. Ahmed al-Bulawi, a fifty year old man, died during interrogation by the Mutaween. Twenty eight year old Salman al-Huriasy was killed while being detained by them. Another woman was seriously injured because she jumped from a four story building to avoid the Mutaween.
The Mutaween are religious police employed by the Saudi government to enforce its civic values. The official title of the service is the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.” They enforce Islamic Sharia law follow through its broad discretionary powers. It also ensures that the deeply religious codes are followed. For example, it inspects clothing to make sure that people dress appropriately and that shops are closed for prayer. According to the BBC, there are 3,500 government sponsored officers, and thousands of other volunteers to supplement its force.
The religious police have been criticized since March 2002 when fifteen schoolgirls were killed in a fire. Male rescuers were prohibited from attempting to rescue the girls because they were unveiled. The Mutaween has since relaxed its broad enforcement techniques. For example, they have stopped beating women with sticks, solely because their faces were showing.
The two men who died were Ahmed Bulawi and Salman al-Hurisasy. Bulawi was arrested by the Mutaween for “illegal seclusion with a female, who was not his wife.” He was in a car with a woman. It turned out that the woman was a relative of his wife. During the interrogation process of the Mutaween, fifty year old Bulawi died of a heart attack. Al- Hurisasy was arrested for offenses relating to alcohol. According to his family, he was dragged out of his house to be interrogated while the Mutaween beat him. He died during detention from his wounds.
The Saudi government has tried to silence the growing uprising. The Saudi state news agency released a report that the leader of the religious police would be very firm on prosecuting its members. He stated that he has created committees to review procedures and raise his control on the agency to reduce the number of errors committed.
The difficulty with the organization is the fact that there is no membership requirements to become a member of the Mutaween. Anyone can become a member at any time, making it impossible to stop an impostor from enforcing the vague mandate of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Therefore, the offenses cannot be dealt with unless the Mutaween has strict membership requirements, and its discretionary power of the religious police is limited. Otherwise, people like Bulawi and al-Hurisasy may continue to die.
BBC News. Saudi hold five religious police. 4 June 2007.
BBC News. Saudi Minister rebukes religious police. 4 November 2002.
Reuters. Saudi religious police hold review after deaths. 6 June 2007.
Yahoo News. Saudi religious police quizzed over man’s death. 3 June 2007.