Power of Arrest Stripped from Saudi Arabia's Religious Police

Saudi Police
A policeman stands watch as Muslims attend afternoon prayer at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, January 18. Saudi Arabia has stripped the power of arrest from its religious police force. Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Saudi Arabia has stripped the power of arrest from its controversial religious police force, urging it to instead enforce Islamic rules "kindly and gently," Al Jazeera reports.

The country's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, more colloquially known as the religious police, enforces Riyadh's religious social policies, such as ensuring women cover themselves in public or that shops are closed during prayer.

Prior to the latest update, officers from the so-called Haia police force could arrest people for serious violations of Islamic law, including using alcohol or drugs and performing acts that resemble witchcraft.

New regulations agree by the Saudi cabinet on Wednesday mean the commission can no longer detain people but must instead report violators to other police forces.

Religious police officers must "carry out the duties of encouraging virtue and forbidding vice by advising kindly and gently" under the new rules.

"Neither the heads nor members of the Haia are to stop or arrest or chase people or ask for their IDs or follow them—that is considered the jurisdiction of the police or the drug unit," the new regulations stipulate.