Two Saudi women called agents of the feared religious police terrorists, and one sprayed the men with a tearing irritant after the agents stopped them because they did not conform to the kingdom's strict dress code, the religious police said Monday in a statement.
One of the women filmed the incident, which took place in the Eastern Province on Thursday, the statement quoted Muhammad bin Marshoud al-Marshoud, head of the Eastern Province branch of the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice as saying.
The commission employs the police unit that enforces the kingdom's strict Islamic lifestyle. The police patrol public places to ensure women are covered and not wearing make up, the sexes don't mingle, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.
"Two members of the commission were attacked, cursed and sworn at by two women who were blatantly dolled up," al-Marshoud said, meaning the women were wearing makeup.
He said the agents stopped the women to give them advice and guidance after they noticed they were wearing makeup.
"One of the women took out a black container and sprayed a tearing substance at them while the other filmed what happened with her phone camera while making improper comments," al-Marshoud said.
He said commission members "took control of the situation with help from security patrols."
"During questioning, the women apologized for attacking the two commission members, signed a statement and were released," he added.
Monday's unusual statement by the commission, which rarely comments on its interaction with the public, comes weeks after a rare backlash on its members that was triggered by the death of two Saudi men in religious police custody.
For the first time, members of the force were put on trial for alleged abuses in the two cases. In the separate trials, religious police were charged with causing the deaths of the two men.
A Saudi court later dropped charges against three members of the religious police and a regular police officer in one of the cases, which involved the death a man shortly after his arrest in June by the religious police for being alone with a woman not of his family.
The second trial, which involves the case of a man who died shortly after his arrest for allegedly consuming alcohol, is still ongoing.
The two cases have sparked calls by human rights groups and newspapers for reforms in the force, which has long been seen as above criticism.
In a related development, commission members banned female shoppers from sitting in a makeshift outdoor restaurant to have their fast-breaking meal in a low-income neighborhood in the western port city of Jiddah because men were already seated at special tables set up for the holy fasting month of Ramadan, according to Al-Watan newspaper.
The paper quoted Muhammed Mehdawi as saying commission members forced his wife and children to eat their food while standing next to him. Other women stood by the stands that run the modest eatery.
Ali al-Luhayyan, head of the commission's Jiddah branch, said the agents' actions were meant as a deterrent, "especially since some of the women were dolled up, and also to prevent the mixing of the sexes that could happen at such events and which our religion rejects," the paper said.