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2008-01-26
Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia
The Saudi-Arabian Religious Police get sensitivity training toward Non-Muslims
The government's decision is seen as an expression of the desire to moderate the activities of the muttawa, and seems to be part of a policy of limiting their powers, the object of criticism from human rights groups.

The agents of the "commission for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice", the official name of the muttuwa, the Saudi religious police, must attend courses on how to behave toward diplomats and non-Muslim foreigners.

The Dubai newspaper Gulf News reports that the courses will be organised by the Institute of Diplomatic Studies in Riyadh. The head of the institute's development programmes department, Nasser Al Marzouqi Al Buqmi, says the courses will begin on April 20, and will be taught by "specialised experts from the institute and others from outside".

The initiative, created under the auspices of the foreign ministry, seems to be part of a government policy to moderate the actions of the muttawa, which have always been accused by human rights groups and recently also criticised by the government-controlled Saudi press for the actions of their agents. There was also widespread coverage of the news that at the end of October last year, for the first time ever two agents of the religious police were put on trial, accused of the beating death of a man in his home, which they had stormed on the suspicion that there was alcohol inside.

A step toward the containment of the vast role of the muttawa has also been seen in the government decision, announced about ten days ago, to institute a "community police" force. The agents of this police force would have to work together with the population, not only to resolve any disputes, but also to create social service mechanisms.

Source: News Agency AsiaNews, Rome/Italy
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