THE LEVANT – An investigation has been launched by Saudi Arabia’s religious police after a British businessman was reportedly attacked by some of its members for using a women-only cash till at a supermarket.
Video footage has emerged which appears to show Peter Howarth-Lees as he is jumped on by a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the Mutawa, outside the supermarket in Riyadh.
In the video, after a woman appears to intervene, Mr Howarth-Lees, can be heard shouting ‘That’s my wife, how dare you.’
An investigation has now been ordered by the head of the Mutawa into the incident, it has been reported.
Mr Howarth-Lees, who is married to a woman from Saudi Arabia, was attacked after members of the Mutawa followed him out of the shop, press has reported.
A statement apparently written by Mr Howarth-Lees and posted on to a local website describes how he and his wife were directed to the female cashier before three men approached them and objected.
He said the couple were harassed by the men, despite the cashier’s assertion that the customers were a family, before the argument spilled out into the car park after they had paid for their goods.
He said he was thrown to the ground when he tried to take a picture of the Mutawa members as evidence for a complaint after noticing one of them taking pictures of his car.
He said: ‘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.’
His wife then got out of the car before one of the men, apparently as seen in the video, climbed on to a car and jumped on to Mr Howarth-Lees.
The incident finally came to an end after the couple were driven away in a British Embassy car.
Mr Howarth-Lees has told The Telegraph that the head of the Mutawa had told him an investigation had been ordered.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is the Saudi Arabian government’s religious police to enforce Sharia Law within the Islamic nation.
Altogether, it has 3,500 to 4,000 police officers who enforce a strict religious code among citizens.
Members patrol the streets checking dress code, strict separation of men and women, salat prayer by Muslims during prayer times, and other behaviour it believes to be commanded by Islam.
The Mutawa are known for having full beards and wearing their headscarves (ghutrah or shemagh) loose without an agal and often come from Saudi Arabia’s lower classes.
The body has widespread powers to detain and berate offenders and shut down businesses and are employed directly by the King. The organisation’s 2013 budget was the equivalent of $390million.
In May this year it was reported that five Saudi men had been sentenced to 32 years in prison and 4,500 lashes by a criminal court in Saudi Arabia for holding a Valentine’s Day party.
The men were caught at a rented rest house in the Al-Farouq area of Buraidah Qassim province and accused of holding a party with women who were unrelated to them, drinking and dancing.
Mutawa members rounded up the men with the help of security patrols for their offences along with six women on February 14.