Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Saudi religious policeman lashed for having six wives

Map of Saudi Arabia

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to 120 lashes for having six wives at the same time.

Muslim men can keep up to four wives at a time under sharia, or Islamic law, which is applied in Saudi Arabia.

Reports say the unnamed man worked for the country's religious police. At his trial, the defendant claimed he did not know he was breaking the law.

The man was also banned from leading prayers and ordered to read two chapters of the Koran.

Islam permits polygamy for men on condition that wives are treated equally.

The case was tried in a court in the southern province of Jizan.

Religious police

Reports said that the accused was a member of the 5,000-strong Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The committee, known as the Mutawa, enforces the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam, particularly regarding relations between the sexes.

But a court official speaking to Reuters news agency said the man held only an administrative post there.

Correspondents say the case is one of a string of abuses by the religious police that have been exposed by the Saudi media.

In a move seen as an attempt to rein in the Mutawa, in February 2009, Saudi's King Abdullah replaced the head of the organisation.

In 2007 the Mutawa were banned from detaining suspects after the force came under criticism for overzealous behaviour after recent deaths in custody.

In 2002 the religious police allegedly stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress.

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