MARCH 24 - The National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (NSHR) have accused the religious police of abusing their power, stating clear offences that come after months of protests and criticism, even in the media, in a report claiming "excessive" and "illegal" behaviour. Growing intolerance of moderates, popular opinion, incidents and deaths provoked by the "zeal" of the commission for the protection of virtues and the prevention of vice (the name of the surveillance group known as the religious police) led to a call for King Abdallah Bin Saud bin Abdel Aziz to replace the previous head of the religious police with a more moderate figure in February. A change to the conformist leaders in a broader reshuffling of the leadership of the ultra-conservative country amid cautious reforms promoted by the king involved, among others, the Minister of Culture. Culture - the focus of the Book Fair, which recently ended - was the most recent battleground between intellectual and religious police. Despite the tolerant directives of the ministry, the religious police intervened and arrested two authors at the book fair while Saudi writer Halima Muzzafar was signing books for her fans. Surrounded by five security agents, six police officers, and two religious police agents, "I felt like strapping explosives to myself rather than signing my books" commented the writer, whose harsh editorials in the pages of Al Watan aimed at the commission, are well-known by the heads of the religious police. Writers Abdu Khal and Abdullah Thabet ended up in prison for a few hours for not respecting an order to not speak with Muzzafar, and therefore violating sexual segregation laws, and for having argued with police. Reports have claimed serious violations by members of the commission for their conduct and prayer in accordance to the laws of the Koran. "The commission has used excessive power, beyond its jurisdiction in performing its functions", read a NSHR report in Gulf News, which continued, "the members of the commission have exceeded their limits in managing arrests, interrogations, and investigations into various people in different areas of the kingdom". There have been many complaints for inhumane treatment, torture, and even murder. One of the most recent and controversial cases involved the death of three people, including a girl and her mother, attributed to a pursuit launched by the religious police. (ANSAmed).
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