by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1434)
People in Saudi Arabia were outraged when a court said a preacher who was convicted of raping and brutally murdering his five-year-old daughter was to be set free after a few months in jail and paying “blood money” to the girl’s mother. What kind of law exists in the archaic kingdom?
What kind of society would execute minors after extracting confessions under torture but allow a child killer to get away with a relatively light sentence because he happens to be one of their own? Only in Saudi Arabia does this happen. There are two sets of laws: one for foreign workers that have virtually no rights, and another for Saudi citizens that can get away, literally, with murder. To understand the phenomenon, let us consider two unrelated cases and their outcomes.
One relates to a Sri Lankan domestic servant, Rizana Nafeek who was accused in 2005 of smothering an infant under her care to death in the town of al-Dwadmi. The Sri Lankan maid was barely 17 and had been in the kingdom only a few weeks. She did not speak Arabic and was forced to confess to the crime under duress. She was not properly represented by a lawyer. The Saudi Interior Ministry announced on January 9 it had executed Rizana Nafeek despite mercy pleas from her poor parents to King Abdullah to spare her life.
The other case relates to a Saudi “celebrity” television preacher, Fayhan al-Ghamdi, who tortured and murdered his five-year-old daughter. He was also accused of raping the young girl. Al-Ghamdi was sentenced to a few months in prison and ordered to pay $50,000 in “blood money” to the mother (the preacher’s wife) of the dead girl, Lama. The judge said that is all what is required under Saudi law and the preacher could walk free. The news scandalized Saudis from all walks of life who demanded the preacher be executed. The issue garnered so much publicity that the Saudi regime was forced to intervene and say the preacher would stay in prison. A statement issued by the Saudi Justice Ministry on February 12 said al-Ghamdi remained in prison and the “case was continuing.”
The murdered girl, Lama, had suffered multiple injuries including a crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken left arm and extensive bruising and burns. Social workers said she had also been repeatedly raped and burnt. The girl’s father, al-Ghamdi, admitted using a cane and cables to inflict the injuries after doubting his five-year-old daughter’s virginity and taking her to a doctor. This was reported by the group, Women to Drive, that leads the campaign challenging the regime’s ban on women driving because according to Saudi preachers, this could lead to immorality!
Saudi Arabia claims to be governed by Islamic Law and that its constitution is the “Qur’an and the Sunnah” yet under the country’s legal system, fathers cannot be executed for murdering their children nor can husbands be executed for murdering their wives. What ayat of the Qur’an and what hadiths say that fathers are permitted to kill their daughters without punishment? The same scandalous exemption exists in the case of husbands killing their wives. Killing daughters, that is, newborn girls, was a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia because fathers were ashamed of having daughters. Islam put an end to this barbaric practice.
In a ruling, the presiding judge told the prosecution that it could only seek “blood money” from the offender, in this case the murdered girl’s father. The judge refused to sentence him to death saying according to the “law,” he could not do so. Instead, the judge ruled: “Blood money and the time the defendant had served in prison since Lama’s death suffices as punishment.” What kind of law would allow a father to rape his own daughter, break her skull, ribs, back and arm using a cable and yet sentence him to only a few months in prison?
Let us return to the case of the Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek. She was convicted after extracting a confession from her without a translator present to explain to her what she was charged with. Instead, based on this “confession” she was sentenced to death and beheaded by the Saudi regime. The Sri Lankan maid had been in the kingdom only a few weeks and was barely 17 when the incident occurred. The infant’s mother accused her of smothering the child, an allegation Rizana vigorously denied after she understood what she was charged with.
From a poor Sri Lankan family, Rizana came to work as a domestic servant in Saudi Arabia in hopes of earning a decent living to look after her family’s needs back in Sri Lanka. She was sent to the house of the Quthaibis where she was required to look after the infant, feed it, change its diapers, cook food for the family, wash the dishes and clothes as well as clean the house, which was more like a mansion. New to the job and still a minor — under International Law, a person under 18 is considered a minor (Rizana Nafeek was 17 at the time) — she tried her best to fulfill all these chores. One day when she was bottle feeding the infant, it started to choke. She rushed to tell the baby’s mother. When they returned, the baby was not breathing. The mother accused Rizana of choking the baby to death. She had no reason to harm the infant. Yet this became the basis for her trial and subsequent conviction in 2007. Despite frequent appeals to the Saudis including King Abdullah, these went unheeded and Rizana was executed by beheading in January 2013. The life of a poor Sri Lankan maid was not worth much, as far as the Saudis are concerned.
She was given no access to lawyers before her conviction. No translators were provided to explain to her what she was being charged with. Even the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh did not make any serious effort to help her. After all, she was a Muslim — yes, part of the much maligned Muslims worldwide that are up to no good — and not worth spending any time in helping her. The manner in which the Saudi authorities handled Rizana’s case evoked strong criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). These two bodies and others also argued that her execution had breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which Saudi Arabia has ratified. In fact, Saudi Arabia is in breach of violating the rights of its own children as well if they happen to be female, as the case of Lama demonstrates. The Saudis seem to harbour a special grudge against women. It is the only regime in the world that does not allow women to drive.
While the Sri Lankan government did not care much about one of its citizens, a frightened young woman, being brutalized and murdered in a strange land, the American anti-war group, United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) launched a petition to lobby the US government to end its special relationship with the Saudi regime and terminate the $60 billion arms deal. UNAC has called for an end to Saudi cruelties and called upon the US government to not sell weapons to this regime.
At its meeting in January, the UNAC Coordinating Committee endorsed the following internet petition to the US president and Congress: “The beheading of domestic worker Rizana Nafeek by the government of Saudi Arabia is the last straw. The regime should be an international pariah. Cancel the $60 billion US-Saudi Arms deal.” (To sign the petition, go to: http://signon.org/sign/condemn-the-execution?source=c.fwd&r_by=1386477).
While it is unlikely that the US government would terminate its relationship with the House of Saud given the American elites’ tight links with Saudi rulers, the fact that groups and organizations in the US are beginning to take note of Saudi atrocities is a hopeful sign. It is grassroots mobilization that would build pressure against such tyrannical regimes and force the US government to take notice even if it does not want to. UNAC seems to have a good grasp of the terrible situation in Saudi Arabia. Its statement that accompanied the petition went on: “The gruesome beheading of Rizana Nafeek, carried out by Saudi Arabian authorities, must mark the end of tolerance for the Saudi regime. This kingdom executes people for witchcraft and blasphemy, and lashes women who dare to drive cars. It does not allow the existence of labor unions, but does permit old men to marry children. Political rights are non-existent and demonstrations are put down violently. The regime is a notorious sanctuary for tyrants from Idi Amin of Urganda to Zine Ben Ali of Tunisia.”
According to the British daily, The Guardian, there are currently 45 foreign maids on death row in Saudi Arabia. Most are accused of killing their employers. The Saudis are notorious for mistreating poor domestic servants, whether from Sri Lanka or the Philippines. They often suffer sexual abuse. If they resist, they are accused of all kinds of crimes they have not committed. Often the charge against them is attempted murder that lands them in prison. How many of the 45 foreign maids on death row will end up on the chopping block is anybody’s guess but the fact is the Saudi authorities are quick to punish foreigners even if the evidence against them is weak. It is the word of the Saudi employer or his relatives versus that of a poor domestic servant with little or no legal representation.
Girls from poor families in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines are lured by unscrupulous operators with promises of good pay as domestic servants in Saudi Arabia. Many end up being sold into prostitution rings in the kingdom. They cannot even escape because their passports are snatched by “employers” upon arrival in the kingdom. When they are caught, it is these poor girls that are beheaded for “spreading vice,” not the operators or the Saudis that run such rackets. The Saudi rulers have the gall to claim they are following the Qur’an and the Sunnah. May they be judged and punished according to the divine Book!