Saudi Arabia has barred its religious police from pursuing suspects or making arrests, curbing the powers of an institution which was central to enforcement of kingdoms strict morality rules.
The members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) patrolled public spaces to enforce bans on alcohol, music, prayer time store closures and the mixing of unrelated men and women, and imposed modesty requirements on womens dress.
They will not be allowed now to pursue, question, request identification from or arrest suspects, according to a cabinet statement carried by state news agency SPA.
CPVPV is now directed to report suspected crimes to the police or drug authorities. Members are also required to show identity cards while carrying out official duties, according to the statement.
The new decree also established the role of the president of the CPVPV as a ministerial level position, appointed directly by royal decree.
The religious police was criticised online and in local media over several high-profile cases of car chases resulting in fatal accidents, prompting the commissions president to ban such pursuits in 2012.
Controversy stirred again last month after video posted on social media showed members beating a young woman outside a Riyadh mall. Accordning to Reuters, the patrol had tried to force the woman to cover her face.