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Saudi religious police accused of online honey traps

Religious conservatives hold sway in Saudi Arabia's social matters [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 November, 2015

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Riyadh's fearsome religious police force has reportedly come under fire for posing as exotic women online, sending graphic images to web users - then arresting them on pornography charges.

Saudi Arabia's religious police force has been accused of using pornographic images to entrap online victims.

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices - as the force is officially known - is being investigated over allegations its members are using indecent images in sting operations, according to Saudi media.

Makkah
reported that the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in Saudi Arabia's southern Asir province had filed a complaint against the religious police force for luring "cybercrime" suspects. 

They warned them to "strictly stick with criminal procedure regulations laid out by law".

The Asir prosecutors received a complaint from one of the victims, who said they were sent graphic images by members of the religious police posing as women online - and then arrested following the sting operation.

"We address all the IT and ethical criminal activities in accordance to the law and regulations as laid out by standard criminal regulations," said Turki al-Shalil, head of the religious police, according to al-Arabiya.

The Saudi news agency reported that legal action was now being taken by the religious police against the Makkah newspaper - which originally covered the story - for reporting "false news" - but this cannot be independently verified at this time.

The religious police force is used to administer a strict legal code according to Saudi-Wahabbi interpretations of Islamic texts.

This includes harsh punishments for those who break the kingdom's stern moral code, where alcohol, mixing of sexes and women driving are all strictly prohibited.

Some Saudis believe that the religious police force must take action on online abuses of Saudi law, such as accessing pornography, suggestive conversations with members of the opposite sex and harassment.

In 2014, a Saudi columnist for Medinah encouraged the religious police force to "bolster" its online efforts and move away from just "monitor[ing] social media violations".

She called for them to also rout other "evils" including websites that promote pornography, sorcery and black magic.

Political dissidents such as Raif al-Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes, was prosecuted due to the contents of his blog.

The religious police force now has its own Twitter account with more than 164,000 followers. It attempts to paint a more welcoming image to Saudis through social media, while it sustains a fearsome reputation.

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