Local media reported on Monday that a British man and his Saudi wife were assaulted by members of the religious police outside a mall in Riyadh. A short video posted on YouTube appears to show the office from the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), as it is officially known, jumping from the top of a vehicle on the man before his wife tried to defend him.
A spokesman for CVPVP said on Twitter that the religious police chief has ordered an urgent investigation into the the incident.
Early reports on social media said the man is American and that the incident happened in the town of Buraida in the central province of Qassim. This is inaccurate.
I know the man and I have met him a couple of times before. He is British, married to a Saudi woman and they have been living in Riyadh for years. He sent me this statement about the incident, published here in full:
Here are the facts first hand of 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.
UPDATE: Religious police on Tuesday formally apologized to the man and his wife after conducting an investigation that found officers guilty of abusing their power. The four offices are to be disciplined by transferring them to jobs outside Riyadh.