Four Haia members indicted

These still images taken from a videoclip posted on YouTube shows a Haia man jumping onto the back of British man Peter Howarth Lees, being slapped by Lees' wife Abeer, and being restrained by mall security and bystanders.

These still images taken from a videoclip posted on YouTube shows a Haia man jumping onto the back of British man Peter Howarth Lees, being slapped by Lees’ wife Abeer, and being restrained by mall security and bystanders.

Four members from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) have been indicted in a probe that was ordered immediately after a videoclip of Haia men manhandling a British couple went viral.

“The four officials have been transferred outside Riyadh and have been assigned administrative jobs,” said a statement released by the Haia here Tuesday.

The Haia has also formally apologized to the British man and his wife. The indictment is the latest development in a series of recent Haia misconduct investigations.

The victim, 53-year-old Peter Howarth-Lees, refused to comment.

“We are not interested in speaking with the media until our case is fully closed; thank you for your understanding,” he said. The Haia statement confirmed that “the videoclip shows an incident that took place at a Riyadh shopping mall on Friday night.”

“The men in the video are members of a Haia center in Riyadh.”

“The man who attacked the Briton in the video was the head of the Haia team,” the statement added.

Howarth-Lees, whose wife is Saudi by nationality, was knocked to the ground and kicked by members of the religious police, known as the “mutawa,” who had followed the couple out of the shop.

According to reports, Howarth-Lees and his wife, Abeer, were attacked by Haia men in the parking lot of the supermarket following an argument that had ensued after they objected to him using a checkout counter manned by a woman at the supermarket.

A security team from the British Embassy eventually arrived at the scene and escorted the couple home.

The investigation also found that commission members had failed to communicate with their shift supervisor. “This runs contrary to the rule that state that Haia men must take instructions from the head of Haia center before taking any action against anyone in the field,” said the statement.

The probe has also indicted the members for manhandling the couple instead of adopting procedures laid out by the Haia office in dealing with such cases.

The team members “aggravated the situation when they chased the Briton and his wife to the car and attempted to stop them,” read the statement, which also added that they collectively tried to mislead the investigation panel.

The four accused men had even denied their appearance in the videoclip and contradicted their own statements before the probe panel.

“Based on the findings, the four-member team were transferred outside the Riyadh region and have been assigned administrative tasks,” said the Haia statement. The decision was applauded by Saudis and expatriates alike.

“This probe against religious police comes at a time when the Saudi government has increased its focus on misconduct, racism and terrorism cases around the country,” said Karim Khwaja of King Saud University (KSU).

“It’s the victory of innocence,” said Naeem Jameel, an advertiaing and PR executive, of the Howarth-Lees case.

 
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