This is the most shocking story involving the Saudi religious police I’ve heard for a while. From beginning to end, it just amazes me how in this day and age an incident like this could still occur. In short: A British man and his Saudi wife were assaulted by Haia’ officials at Danube parking lot last Friday. The incident started inside the store, when a gang of Haia (religious police) officers began harassing the couple over such a petty thing as going to the wrong cashier. **Note to those not aware, recently Saudi supermarkets have opened “female tellers” which are meant for females (includes couples without children) and families only (not for single males). Despite there being nothing wrong with the couples choice of tellers, the Hai’a decided to make a big fuss about it.
The row continued outside, escalating to the point where one of the Hai’a officers pounced from top of a car on the Brit’s back.
Not even the police, which the couple called from inside the car where they were trapped for over an hour, helped the couple.
Only the bullet-proof vehicle which was sent by the British Embassy to their rescue, finally got them out of there.
Some people might remember a very similar incident from two years back, where crowds gathered outside a mall watching an expat-Saudi couple being assaulted by a gang of young Saudis. In that case too, the crowd mostly just watched, as the heavily pregnant wife tried to beat the s**t out of the attackers while Saudi men pounced from top of cars on the husbands back. The bystanders then even began to participate mobbing the Saudi husband and his 9 months pregnant Finnish wife got hit in the stomach in the process. Read about the incident here.
Here are the facts first hand directly from mr. Peter Howarth-Lees, regarding the incident on Friday, August 29th around 9:45pm.
“We went shopping on Friday evening after Isha prayer at Danube Hypermarket in Hiteen Plaza, exit 2, off the Northern Ring road.
While shopping we had noticed three young men, who looked ‘religious’ wandering the aisles and obviously not shopping while being followed and observed by two store security guards.
We finished our shopping and were asked to use the female family checkout line.
We were at the checkout with the female cashier when the three men approached and aggressively objected to us using the family line and harassed us while we were almost finished paying for our shopping. I told them to stop harassing us and go away but they persisted.
An argument ensued when the female cashier explained that we were a family. A scene developed at the checkout with two female cashiers arguing with them and me holding my ground.
Supermarket security intervened but the three men continued their harassment.
They then started pushing and shoving me while giving myself and my wife verbal abuse.
As I handed over my bank card to the cashier one of the men snatched it from her hand and refused to return it. I protested,
We eventually handed the card back to the teller after I agreed to let my wife enter my PIN number into the cashiers machine.
The three men followed us out of the supermarket onto the parking lot continuing with verbal abuse and threatening behavior.
Now on the parking lot, we reached our vehicle and I asked my wife to quickly get inside and lock the doors while I loaded the shopping into the trunk with our driver.
As I walked to get into the car, I noticed that one of the three men, who were now all standing in front of our car, was taking photos of our plate no.
A large crowd had now gathered.
I went to remonstrate with the man taking the photos and decided to take a photo of them with my phone for evidence of who they were so we could file a complaint of unnecessary harassment later.
Then, suddenly and very violently, the three of them attacked me and threw me to the ground and tried unsuccessfully to take my phone.
While I was on the ground all three of them proceeded to kick me repeatedly in the head and back and then one of them stamped hard on my face.
On seeing this, my wife got out of the car and somehow managed to push them off me and I managed to stand up.
Then, as seen in the short video clip now circulating on social media, one of the three stood on another vehicle and tried to jump on my back but only succeeded in kicking me forward into the crowd who then held me back for a few moments.
My wife, at the same time, and in clear self defence, hit back at this man while mall security and members of the public tried to prevent him from further attacking us.
At this point the man managed to kick my wife in the stomach before I got her to the other side of the car to get her inside.
As I was getting her into the car, another person (a member of the public seemingly incited by the Hai’a or simply carried away with the violence) jumped on our hood and roof and then karate kicked me in the neck and I fell again. I then got up from the ground again and bundled my wife back into the car, got in myself and locked the doors.
We were very concerned for our safety at this point as the three men tried to force us out of the car, pulling at the doors and banging on the roof and windows.
We called 999 and local police eventually arrived but were unable to help and said they did not wish to get involved. We called the British Embassy for assistance.
Another Hai’a official arrived – a much older man who was very respectful and seemingly embarrassed at the actions of his younger officers. He tried to negotiate and calm the situation, speaking to is through a small gap in the window but it was clear the other three would not be happy until they had us out of the car. They continued their insults and made racist comments to my wife. The older man told us we could leave without being arrested, only if we deleted photos from my phone. We refused, telling him we had done nothing wrong and told him we would not leave until a representative from the British embassy arrived. This seemed to unsettle him.
Our photo was the only evidence of the men who had violently assaulted us.
A heated discussion between the Hai’a and Police continued for a while.
Our driver was not allowed into the car and a Hai’a vehicle was blocking our only means of escape.
The Police then left the scene. This development alarmed us further. We were now very frightened and felt extremely vulnerable as again we felt we were left to the mercy of the Hai’a. If they were capable of such public violence against in front of 50 plus witnesses, what could they do to us if they managed to get us into their vehicle? Thankfully, and to our great relief, they left a few moments before Embassy security arrived and we were escorted home.
The following day, Police from Sahafa district tracked us down and took full statements. We were treated extremely professionally with great courtesy and respect by the officers and later taken to hospital for check ups.
We have the utmost thanks and respect for the Sahafa Police Department for their care and support.
Alhamdulillah, we were not badly hurt, just bruised, battered and shocked that a simple Friday night shopping trip in Riyadh’s most exclusive neighborhood could turn into an unprovoked and violent attack on us by government employees.
Despite this, our love and loyalty for this country which is our home, is not shaken by this incident but we expect to see answers from the authorities.
How can men with such a violent nature, prepared to kick a defenseless woman half their size be allowed to work in an official capacity? Thank God my wife is a strong woman able to stand her ground. I’m very proud of her and her actions should be applauded.
Thank God she was not injured and if she hadn’t got out of the car, I may have suffered far more serious injury or worse.
We do not believe that the actions of these three men represent Saudi society and culture.
We are confident that the highest authorities will take all necessary steps to keep us safe, protect and uphold our rights and the rights of all citizens and guests in this country.”
END OF STATEMENT
Below is the 10 second video clip taken by a bystander posted on Youtube:
UPDATE: The couple has met with the chief of Haia, Abdullatif Al-Asheikh on Sunday, who has ordered an investigation into the incident.
The CPVPV has released an official report of the investgations including an apology which can be read here (in Arabic): https://www.pv.gov.sa/news/Pages/Bayan-234-07-11-35-1456.aspx
The Haia has issued an official report outlining the findings of the investigation, stating all the men involved were indeed members of the CPVPV, but it was an individual action which does not represent the Haia organization, its rules or procedures. The Haia member that jumped on the British man was the leader of the group. They found that Mr. Howarth-Lees did nothing wrong and that the Haia members had lied in their statements. The involved Haia men have been taken off field duties and transferred to office work outside of Riyadh.
Here is the interview with the Saudi wife (in Arabic) about the incident:
In case you were not aware, the President of the CPVPV, Abdulatif Al Alsheikh, has banned the commission officers from harassing, chasing, spying on or displaying any kind of violent behavior in their actions. According to this Saudi Gazette article published June this year:
“Al-Alsheikh said there were six “nos” Haia members should stay away from: Spying, extremism, fanaticism, authoritarianism, harming people and chasing suspects. He said the Haia is applying rules and regulations equally among all citizens and residents without any distinction.
Haia men have been instructed never to abuse any man or woman. They should always be lenient and nice to every one. “No one should be falsely accused or deliberately harassed. The Haia men should not resort to devious means just to incriminate the others,” he said.”
Personally I doubt any severe punishment will be given to the Haia men. This is because as usually happens in these cases, and yes there are LOTS of them, (even one is one too many) the Hai’a officers have been merely suspended from work for a while, or they were placed somewhere else to work. I have yet to hear of any of the Haia officers actually getting a jail sentence of flogging for their offenses, if anyone has heard of such cases, please do let us know! Not long ago they were involved in a car chase which resulted in the death of some young Saudi men. The muttawa were let off charges for murder, of course. Here’s an excerpt the article from Arab News about it:
The two Haia members allegedly chased the victims, resulting in them running a traffic light, hitting a taxi and then a bridge fence before plunging from the King Fahd Road overpass onto Imam Mohammed bin Saud Road, near the Riyadh Gallery Mall.
The Haia members fled the scene, but a motorist recorded the incident on his phone. The older brother died at the scene, while the other one succumbed to brain injuries in hospital.
Hopefully this time things will be different though, and the officers will be facing severe consequences for their actions, not just suspending them from work!
It’s such a shame that these men are supposed to be representing Islam but when they act like this people all around the world will think wrongly of Muslims and Islam. These kind of incidents with muttawa give such a bad name to Saudi Arabia and Muslims! It’s embarrassing and their actions have nothing to do with the true Islamic teachings.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. How come we only see them promoting and using vice, violence and vile behavior? The name should be at least changed accordingly based on their behavior. My suggestion would be Commission for Promotion of Violence and Prevention of Righteousness!
Such a shameful incident! I pray the couple will recover from this trauma quickly and they can go on living their lives in peace in the country they love, Saudi Arabia.