Videos capturing a member of Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (also known as religious police), publicly assaulting a woman, went viral on social media earlier this week. 

In one of them, members of the religious police are heard asking the victim to go inside a retail store after they spotted her sitting outside, while she responds telling them they have no right to force her to leave the place where she's sitting. 

In another video, the victim is heard screaming as one of the men appears to be attacking her, forcibly confiscating her mobile phone. 

In the hours after the incident, the woman's brother shared details of the assault with Sabq news site, stating that his sister had to be hospitalized after the attack.

"My sister was sitting outside the retail store where she works, when members of the religious police spotted her and ordered her to go back inside. She explained that she couldn't go back in until she is called by her supervisors. Her friends at work filmed the argument using their mobile phones. This seemed to anger the man who later followed her inside and assaulted her," he said.

"He dragged her outside the store and continued to beat her, breaking her fingernails and bruising her jawline. She then called me and I rushed to the place. I arrived towards the end of the attack, and saw other religious police members making a report about the incident. I also saw authorities writing their report on it and I have a video that is proof of the entire attack," he added

The victim's brother also explained that the man attacking his sister grabbed her phone away from her and screamed at her for filming him. 

"I am shocked and confused by this. How did they do this when new laws regarding the authority of religious police members state that they cannot enforce rules on people the way they did before? How did they enter a female-only store? How could they beat my sister so violently? We all respect members of the religious police, but why did they not just give my sister their advice and let her go," he asked.

Since news of the attack went viral, authorities launched an official investigation into the matter. 

Videos of the incident sparked controversy online

Soon after the footage of the horrific assault started to make the rounds online, thousands reacted to it. 

While some tried to make excuses for the religious police member, others were outraged and called on authorities to take action. 

There were a few people who tried to defend the attacker

"A woman who acts like this, filming and defaming a man, deserves everything she gets. Filming a member of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice doing his job is a punishable crime in and of itself." 

Others were just having none of it

"Those who are defending the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, saying that the girl was filming the man who belongs to it and screaming at him, let's see what you would have done if you were put in a similar situation. I don't understand how you're making excuses for him!!" 

"He must be held accountable"

"He has no right to look through her mobile phone like this, it has her private photos and information on it. He must be held accountable."

Many raised this point

"You're in public minding your own business when someone comes over and attacks you like this?! Where else does this happen?! How do you plan to implement a vision that promotes tourism when these types of people are roaming the streets? I hope that this man is held accountable because he abused the power he has, assaulted this woman and invaded her privacy." 

Others were outraged

"It's as if you think people will abandon Islam if you don't force it on them"

"Violently forcing your rules on people distorts true Islam and makes people think it has nothing to offer this generation. It's as if you think people will abandon Islam if you don't force it on them."

The changing role of the religious police in the kingdom

In 2016, Saudi Arabia issued a law to regulate its religious police.

The law bans members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice from arresting suspects or practicing any other form of law enforcement on them.

It also says that committee members are not allowed to "stop people, put reservations on them, chase them, ask for their documents, verify their identities or follow them." 

Although the law did not make changes to the day-to-day responsibilities of committee members, such as banning the sale and consumption of alcohol and ensuring women are properly covered, it did make changes to the way members carry them out.

According to latest news reports, the kingdom is now discussing plans to further curb the authority's activities in the coming months.