British man attacked by Haia lauds police, Saudi reaction

The moment when one of the attackers launches himself at Howarth-Lees; Right: Howarth-Lees’ wife, Abeer, retaliates.

The moment when one of the attackers launches himself at Howarth-Lees; Right: Howarth-Lees’ wife, Abeer, retaliates.

A British man who was assaulted by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) in Riyadh on Friday night has paid tribute to local police who helped him in the aftermath of the incident and also praised the support he received from Saudis on social media.

Peter Howarth-Lees, 53, said he and his Saudi wife Abeer were attacked by the three men in Hiteen Plaza’s parking lot following an argument that had been ongoing after they objected to him using a checkout counter manned by a woman at a supermarket in the mall.

He said a man from the crowd who was not part of the Haia team also jumped on their car and karate kicked him in the neck during the violent struggle.

Eventually, a security team from the British Embassy arrived and escorted the couple home, but only after local police officers arrived and subsequently left them at the mercy of their three harassers.

However, Howarth-Lees was full of praise for officers from the Sahafa District who tracked them down the next day and recorded their statements.

He said: “We were treated with great care and respect by the officers and taken to hospital for check ups.

“Alhamdolillah, we were not badly hurt, just bruised and shocked and our love and loyalty for this country, which is our home, is not shaken by this incident.

“We do not believe that the actions of these three men represent Saudi society and culture and we are confident that the highest authorities will take all necessary action to keep us safe, protect our rights and the rights of all citizens and guests in this country.” Howarth-Lees said he was surprised by support he received from Saudis on social media.

“In fact, these Saudis were actually apologizing for the actions of these three men, even though they were not personally at fault.”

His wife also received plenty of support from Saudis on Twitter after she was shown in a 10-second clip, which went viral, retaliating against the trio after one of them jumped on Howarth-Lees.

A few Arabic hashtags, including two called “Praise your right hand Abeer” and “Abeer’s slap represents me”, were set up in tribute to her actions.

Howarth-Lees has been working in real estate in the Kingdom for the last 17 years.

He also runs Smile Productions, a company that has been largely credited with helping kickstart the stand-up comedy scene in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Hayat reported Monday that Riyadh Emir Prince Turki Bin Abdullah and Haia chief Abdullatif Al-Asheikh are looking into the incident.

An online newspaper, Akhbar 24, also claimed Al-Asheikh called Abeer and reassured her that he would not be lenient with the perpetrators.

However, this could not be confirmed at the time of going to press.


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