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Saudi Arabia's 'religious police' assault British man and wife in Riyadh

By Schams Elwazer, CNN
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
  • Video shows Saudi Arabia's religious police attacking British man and his Saudi wife
  • The couple reportedly used a women-only cashier line at a supermarket in Riyadh
  • Office of head of religious police (CPVP) says video is authentic, condemns attack as "unacceptable"
  • CPVP says four of its members have been transferred to administrative jobs outside Riyadh

(CNN) -- A video of a British man and his Saudi wife being assaulted by members of Saudi Arabia's religious police has gone viral across the Arab world.

The video, which shows a man in a headscarf leaping off a car to attack another man in a parking lot, was filmed after the couple reportedly used a women-only cashier line at a supermarket in Riyadh.

In a statement published on the website of a well-known Saudi writer and blogger, the British man said that while he and his wife were shopping, they noticed three young men who looked "religious" following them. As they were going through the cashier line reserved for women and families, he said the men "started pushing and shoving" and verbally abusing them.

The men followed the couple out to the parking lot, where a crowd of people gathered as the argument continued. The British national said the three men "attacked" him after he took a photo of them on his phone, according to the online statement attributed to him.

"While I was on the ground all three of them proceeded to kick me repeatedly in the head and back," he said in the statement. He said that his wife got out of the car to defend him and was kicked in the stomach after hitting one of the men. In the short mobile phone video, the British man can be heard screaming, "Get off of my wife! That's my wife, how dare you!"

He said they called the British Embassy and locked themselves in their car until "embassy security arrived" and they were escorted home.

The man has been named by Saudi newspapers, but the British Embassy in Riyadh would not confirm his identity. He did not sign his name to the online statement but Ahmed Al Omran, the blog's owner, wrote: "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."

The office of the head of the religious police, officially known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVP), concluded that the video was authentic and condemned the attack on the couple as "unacceptable" in a statement Tuesday.

The CPVP's investigation found that the men acted beyond their remit in approaching the couple inside a private shopping center, and that they lied in their accounts of events, according to the statement. Four members of the religious police have been transferred to administrative jobs outside Riyadh.

A British Embassy spokesman said they were providing consular assistance to the British national and "welcome the undertaking taken by the head of the [CVPV] Sheikh Abdullatif Al ash-Sheikh to investigate the incident fully."

The incident has been heavily covered in Saudi and Arab press and generated much discussion online. The YouTube video has been viewed more than 400,000 times.

In an apparent reference to the incident, one member of Saudi Arabia's Consultative Assembly, or Shura Council, addressed the "lack of discipline" among religious police field workers and their "flawed judgment" in a session on Monday, according to the body's official website.

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