Manama: Saudi Arabia security authorities have arrested several members of the powerful Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice who were implicated in the pursuit of two girls next to a mall in the capital Riyadh.
The arrests, announced by the interior ministry in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), were made two weeks after the head of the commission took action against them and sacked a senior official.
"With reference to the incident reported on social media and afterwards by other media, and the allegations of a physical assault by a member of the commission on one of the girls, those who were involved have been arrested pending further investigations into the violations," the ministry said.
The incident gained nationwide attention following the posting of a short clip showing a girl screaming in front of a mall in Riyadh as a member of the commission was trying to lead her to a car waiting nearby.
A spokesperson for the commission said that the patrol did not comply with the rules and regulations with regard to making arrests, resulting in the escalation of the situation.
Mohammad Al Sabr added that the commission took punitive action against its members involved in the incident and stressed that no violation or abuse should be tolerated and that the rights of all suspects should be respected at all times.
The abuse incident occurred on February 7 in front of Al Nakheel Mall and was caught on mobile cameras, sparking the wide outrage.
One of the two girls said they had been the victims of “blatant injustice.”
She said that she was walking with her friend in front of the mall looking for a taxi to take them home when they were stopped by a commission patrol.
One of the men asked the two to cover their faces, but the girls initially resisted the order. However, they acquiesced when they saw the man getting off the car and approaching them, the girl who did not identify herself said.
“The commission member asked us if we were students or employees, and wanted to take us into the vehicle,” the girl said. “However, as we realised there was a large number of commission members, we refused and insisted that they call our families. However, the commission member did not listen and he and others tried to pull us inside the van by force,” she said.
The girl managed to flee into the mall even though the commission member was shouting to the guards to stop and apprehend her.
“They guards did not obey him and I was able to escape. My friend ran away towards the main avenue, and everybody saw on social media what happened to her. She was eventually kept away from the commission members and put on a bus that took her home. She was in a terrible state. The commission took her bag and some of her belongings, but she managed to keep the mobile phone that they wanted to wrestle out of her hand,” she said.
A security guard at the mall, giving his account of what happened, said that the commission was at fault and that he had to step in to rescue the girl from further public abuse.
“They chased the girl for half an hour before she was made to fall on the ground where a part of her body was unveiled in public,” Mubarak Al Dossari said in his testimony posted online. “I was shocked to see the Commission member hold the girl violently in his attempt to arrest her, which prompted me to jump in and rescue her and put her on a school bus,” he said in the rare public criticism of the commission, prompting several social media users to form an online campaign to provide Al Dossari with tight security to ensure he is not attacked or harmed in any way.
The mall’s security and safety directorate said that it summoned Al Dossari to listen to his testimony and that it suspended him temporarily out of its concern for his safety until it secures him a position in another location.