by Tahir Mustafa (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1437)
Whose guilt is greater in violating the human rights of people: Bani Saud or Bani Israel? Perhaps it does not matter since they are partners in crime and have fully embraced each other. The kissing cousins have illegally occupied the two holy lands by brute force and are busy terrorizing the respective populations under their control. Both also seem to be nearing the end of their miserable existence.
Even as the Zionists were busy clubbing Palestinian children to death, Bani Saud ushered in the new Gregorian calendar year with mass executions in an attempt to terrorize the restless population of the Arabian Peninsula. This was followed on January 12 by the arrest of Samar Badawi, sister of the jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi that Amnesty International described as “damning proof” of the medieval Kingdom’s atrocious human rights record.
Samar Badawi was arrested with her two-year-old daughter in the port city of Jeddah on January 12. The police interrogated her for four hours before she was thrown in the notorious Dhaban prison, Amnesty said in its statement. One wonders what the muttawi‘oon (the Saudi thought police) would say about male police officers (there are no female police officers in the Kingdom) — non-mahram men (not related by blood or marriage) — interrogating a woman. The muttawi‘oon usually beat up men and women if they are seen together but are not related to each other. “The arrest… is the latest example of Saudi Arabia’s utter contempt for its human rights obligations and provides further damning proof of the authorities’ intent to suppress all signs of peaceful dissent,” Amnesty’s statement added.
Raif Badawi, 31, was detained in 2012 for criticizing the Saudi regime. He received 50 lashes in a public square in Jeddah in January 2015 as the first installment of his 1,000-flogging sentence. He was deeply traumatized by the flogging and is reported to be in very poor health. The CBC program, “As it Happens,” confirmed this on January 18 while talking to a human rights monitor for Amnesty International. The rights group has held protests against Saudi mistreatment of human rights activists including Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khayr, a human rights lawyer who is also in prison because he dared to defend human rights activists in court. He has been sentenced to a 15-year jail sentence against which Amnesty supporters demonstrated in front of the Saudi embassy in the German capital, Berlin, January 8, according to the French news agency, AFP.
Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, wrote on her Twitter page that Samar’s arrest was related to her alleged role in managing a Twitter account campaigning for the release of her ex-husband, Waleed Abu al-Khayr. It is interesting to note that Abu al-Khayr first came to prominence when he took on Samar Badawi’s case who had been physically and mentally abused by her own father. When she fled to a women’s shelter, her father charged her with “parental disobedience.” She was arrested and thrown in jail. Abu al-Khayr defended her and after winning her release, married her. In October 2013, Abu al-Khayr was arrested and imprisoned for three months because he stood with victims of the Kingdom’s flawed judicial system.
In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post on November 26, 2013, Abu al-Khayr wrote,
My country’s legal system is based on uncodified principles of Islamic law, which leaves judges largely free to decide what actions, in their view, are crimes, as well as the appropriate punishments. I believe that the Interior Ministry actively encourages religious extremism and intolerance among the judiciary, recognizing that judges with these views are far more willing to convict human rights and civil society advocates of vague religious and social offenses.
One of the principal causes of my conviction was my reaction to the unfair trial of 16 men known as the “Jiddah reformers,” nine of whom were trying to set up a human rights organization. Prosecutors castigated them as extremists and terrorists, and a judge sentenced all of them to lengthy jail terms. I signed a statement in 2012 criticizing the convictions and calling for the men’s release. That signature was the basis of my conviction last month [October 2013].
To better understand the arbitrary nature of Saudi law, one must consider the manner in which the courts handled a celebrity preacher’s case. Saudi citizens were outraged by a Riyadh court verdict in February 2013 that let the celebrity TV preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi get away with a light sentence after he was convicted of raping and brutally torturing his five-year-old daughter Lamah. The child died in hospital after being so horribly brutalized and abused by her own father.
Rather than sentencing him to death for committing murder, not to mention raping her, as would be the case with ordinary offenders (less than a month after the public execution of a poor, frightened Sri Lankan maid, Rizana Nafeek, who was wrongly accused of smothering a child in her care to death), or at the very least being locked up for life for such a horrendous crime, al-Ghamdi served only a few months in jail before the judge ruled the prosecution could only seek “blood money.”
The judge fined him a mere $50,000 in blood money to be paid to the girl’s mother whom the preacher had divorced. Albawaba News, a Saudi internet news service, quoted the judge as saying, “Blood money and the time the defendant had served in prison since Lamah’s death [in December 2011] suffices as punishment.”
Why did the preacher torture and brutalize his own daughter? He had accused the five-year-old girl of “losing her virginity.” The implication was of the child having illicit sexual relations with somebody. Would a five-year-old girl even know about sex?
Under Saudi law, fathers cannot be executed for murdering their children or husbands for killing their wives. What ayah of the Qur’an or hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) allows this? This may be based on some primitive tribal custom of Najd that the regime and its enabling preachers insist is part of Islam, but it has nothing to do with Qur’anic teachings or the Prophetic Sunnah.
Al-Ghamdi admitted to using a cane and cable to “punish” the child. The young girl was admitted to hospital on December 25, 2011 with multiple injuries, including a crushed skull, broken ribs, broken left arm, and extensive bruising and burns. She died several weeks later. Randa al-Kaleeb, a social worker at the Riyadh hospital where Lamah was admitted, said the girl’s back was broken and that she had been “raped everywhere.” What kind of a father, much less one who claims to be a religious scholar, would inflict such harm on his own child? Al-Ghamdi’s conduct caused such outrage that there were public calls for his execution. Three Saudi activists raised formal objections to the ruling through the Twitter hashtag #AnaLamah (which translates as “I Am Lamah”). It instantly went viral throughout the Kingdom.
While giving broad latitude to judges that hand down sentences based not on any codified law but their own whims, the Saudi regime was forced to intervene in al-Ghamdi’s case because of public outrage. “Today… the Saudi Justice Ministry issued a statement saying the cleric remained in prison and the case was continuing,” reported John Hall in the British daily, The Independent, on February 12, 2013. He also quoted The Times of London, “…sources in the Saudi capital Riyadh are saying the royal family had been ‘stung’ by the outrage over the case, with senior members intervening to ensure a stricter punishment is given.”
When al-Ghamdi reappeared in court on October 8, 2013, he was sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes. This was the direct result of public pressure. The protests waged on social media had clearly proved embarrassing for the regime. The court also ordered the preacher to pay one million riyals ($270,000) — not the 10 million riyals that Lamah’s mother had demanded as blood money. Lawyer Turki al-Rasheed, representing the girl’s mother, confirmed this after the verdict was announced (AFP, October 8, 2013). The preacher’s second wife, also accused of taking part in the torture and murder of the little girl, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and 150 lashes.
Al-Ghamdi was never subjected to lashes. Instead, on August 29, 2015, another judge released him on bail, citing “lack of evidence” in the case. What evidence was the judge looking for: the poor girl was dead; she had been raped with a metal rod; her back and skull were broken. All this was confirmed in the hospital report and al-Ghamdi never denied inflicting such punishment on the poor girl.
It is clear that harsh punishments are inflicted on people demanding their basic rights or are critical of the regime’s atrocious human rights record, such as Raif Badawi, his sister Samar, or human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khayr. On April 15, 2014 when Abu al-Khayr appeared in a Riyadh court for routine hearing, the judge promptly sent him to prison. Neither his lawyer nor his family was allowed to visit him in jail.
Commenting on Samar Badawi’s recent case, Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Director for Middle East and North Africa, said her arrest “…demonstrates the extreme lengths to which the authorities are prepared to go in their relentless campaign to harass and intimidate human rights defenders into silent submission.”
International rights organizations have seen through the Saudi regime’s practices in using the pretext of “fighting extremism” to violate the rights of human rights activists. They point to the regime’s grim human rights record arguing that widespread violations continue unabated in the country. On January 9, Amnesty again voiced deep concerns over the imprisonment and abuse of peaceful human rights defenders and activists by the regime.
“More and more human rights defenders are being sentenced to years in prison under Saudi Arabia’s 2014 counter-terror law, while its allies shamelessly back the Kingdom’s repression in the name of the so-called ‘war on terror,’” said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. He added that dozens of prisoners of conscience remain in jail “at the risk of suffering cruel punishments and ill-treatment for their peaceful activism.”
While the Saudi regime’s atrocious human rights record has a long history, abuses intensified in the wake of the Islamic Awakening movements that swept a number of long-entrenched dictators from power in 2011. The winds of change affected the medieval Kingdom as well. A number of activists started a campaign for some basic freedoms. Their demands were not revolutionary; they merely wanted certain basic rights such as the right of assembly and forming associations. Such calls were summarily dismissed and activists arrested. Fearing further calls, the regime introduced draconian measures to clamp down on any such demands.
On December 16, 2013, the regime imposed a decree banning calls for reform and prohibited exposing corruption in the Kingdom. It also made it a crime to withdraw bay‘ah (allegiance) from the king. Those violating these draconian measures would be considered terrorists and sentenced to jail terms ranging from three to 10 years. The decree was published in its entirety for the first time on January 31, 2014 in the government’s official gazette, Umm al-Qura. There are a string of other provisions in the decree that were promulgated by then King Abdullah (died, January 23, 2015).
Immediately after the decree’s “approval,” then Saudi Minister of Culture and Information, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Khoja (he has since been sacked from his post for closing down the extremist channel Wisal linked with the terrorist takfiri group in Syria), claimed it struck a “balance” between prevention of crimes and protection of human rights, according to Islamic law. Khoja did not explain how it would “protect” human rights when it criminalizes calls for reform or exposure of corruption that is widespread among the thousands of princes. Not surprisingly, human rights activists like ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Shubaily called the decree a “catastrophe.” Calling for the release of 40,000 political prisoners or demanding a fair trial for them would henceforth constitute terrorism and the person would end up in jail.
The Saudi constitution that was “granted” by then King Fahd (died, 2005) in 1992 — no discussion of its provisions was ever permitted, much like the December 16, 2013 decree — says in Article 1, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet, God’s prayers and peace be upon him, are its constitution.” There is not a single verse in the majestic Qur’an or any hadith of the noble Messenger (pbuh) that criminalizes calls for reform or prohibits exposure of corruption. Islam’s injunctions are very clear about corruption: there is severe divine reprimand and punishment for such misconduct (see Surah al-Mutaffifin, for instance). The Saudi regime is openly going against the injunctions of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the noble Messenger (pbuh). This constitutes a declaration of war against Allah (swt) and His Prophet (pbuh); the Qur’an calls such people as mufsidoona fi al-ard (spreaders of corruption on earth). Allah (swt) warns against such conduct and severe punishment awaits those who refuse to take heed (2:27, 7:56, 7:85, 11:85, 13:25, 30:41).
Under Islamic law, allegiance to the ruler cannot be coerced; it is given voluntarily. Despite claiming to be ruled by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (pbuh) Sunnah, it is Bedouin tradition that is being imposed on the people in the desert Kingdom. It is the same Bedouin mentality that is at work in the persecution and imprisonment of such well known human rights activists as ‘Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani. They were sentenced in 2012 to 11- and 10-year sentences respectively, for criticizing the government’s human rights abuses and for membership in what was alleged to be an “unlicensed” political and civil rights organization. The problem is there are no licensed human or political rights organizations in the Kingdom. None is allowed.
Al-Hamid and al-Qahtani were convicted for “breaking allegiance with the king,” “slandering the religiosity and integrity of the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars,” “sowing discord,” and “attempting to shake the internal security of the country by calling for demonstrations.” Under the new regulations, several of these charges have now been classified as acts of terrorism.
Some of the new regulations would be laughable were they not so serious in intent. For instance, some religious “scholars” in Saudi Arabia believe that the earth is flat. The late ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Baaz (died, 1999), the former chief priest of the Kingdom, was one of them. Blind from childhood, he insisted the earth was flat because “…when I walk on it, I do not find it round!” If anyone were to say that the earth is round, he would be declared a terrorist and charged under the new regulations for slandering the “religiosity and integrity of the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars.”
Al-Hamid and al-Qahtani belong to the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), an organization that the interior ministry refused to grant license to and is therefore considered “illegal.” Other members of the organization serving sentences for convictions on similar charges include: Mohammed al-Bajadi, Omar al-Saeed, and ‘Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr. A jailed member, Fowzan al-Harbi, was put on trial at the Riyadh Criminal Court on charges that included “participating in calling for and inciting breaking allegiance with the ruler,” “explicit libel of the integrity and religiosity of the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars,” “participating in setting up an unlicensed organization” — namely, ACPRA — “publishing details of his investigation,” and “describing the ruling Saudi regime — unjustly — as a police state.”
In a press release on March 20, 2014, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a scathing report about the regime’s new terrorism regulations. Titled, “Saudi Arabia: New Terrorism Regulations Assault Rights,” the report decried the new draconian restrictions that “threaten to close down altogether Saudi Arabia’s already extremely restricted space for free expression.” It quoted Joe Stork, HRW deputy director for Middle East and North Africa as saying,
Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism. These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups.
Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the regime has cast its net wide and clamped down on all manner of dissent, however innocuous. The promulgation of the “Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing” is the blunt instrument the Saudis are using to criminalize peaceful dissent and calls for reform. The Saudi judiciary is notorious for handing down harsh sentences against those the regime does not like and give a free pass to its supporters and hangers-on.