Charges dropped against Saudi police

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - A Saudi court has dropped charges against three members of the religious police and a regular police officer accused of being involved in the death of a man in custody, a relative said Tuesday.

Their trial was the first against the powerful force long resented for intimidating people as it enforces Saudi Arabia's strict version of Islam.

The judge presiding over the case did not question witnesses or review the medical report spelling out how Ahmed al-Bulaiwi died shortly after his June 1 arrest by the religious police, according to Audah al-Bulaiwi, a cousin of the deceased.

"The ruling is unacceptable," Audah al-Bulaiwi told The Associated Press. "The right of a person who walked into (jail) on his feet and left as a corpse has been lost."

Ahmed Al-Bulaiwi, a retired border patrol guard in his early 50s, was arrested in the northern city of Tabuk for being alone with a woman who was not a relative. Under the kingdom's rules, a woman cannot drive, and can only go out in public with her father, brother, son or husband.

An investigation showed that al-Bulaiwi, who supplemented his pension by working as a driver, was asked by the family of the middle-aged woman to drive her home, according to the reports.

Shortly after al-Bulaiwi's death, the Tabuk governorate said he died as a result of a severe drop in blood pressure and failure of the respiratory system.

His death - and the case of a second man who also died in custody - have provoked a public outcry against the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which employs the religious police.

The religious police were not available for comment on the cases Tuesday.

The commission employs the police unit to enforce the kingdom's strict Islamic lifestyle, patrolling public places to ensure women are covered, the sexes don't mingle, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.

In the second case, an unidentified commission agent has been implicated in the death of Sulaiman al-Huraisi, 28, while in religious police custody in May. The force had raided his house in Riyadh because they suspected he had alcohol - illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Huraisi's body was released to the family for burial Monday and his father, Muhammad al-Huraisi, told the Arab News he was shocked when he saw it.

"Even if I had any small intention of dropping charges, after seeing the body I am not dropping anything," the newspaper quoted him saying. "He was so badly beaten it was hard for us to recognize him."

Al-Huraisi's cousin, Salman al-Salman, told the newspaper that authorities would not show the family the autopsy report.

It is not clear whether the agent is to stand trial.