I take many photos in Saudi Arabia, and I publish many of them on both of my blogs - this one and my photo blog which is called Jeddah Daily Photo. Many people, especially women in this country, are very private and come close to freaking out when they see a camera. Women here have been blackmailed by men who may have obtained a photo of a woman whose hair is not properly covered or if she is wearing normal clothing and some of her skin shows. In most normal societies, these innocent photos would not be cause for alarm and certainly not a reason for blackmail. But in a restrictive place like Saudi Arabia, regular photos like these of a woman, if landing in the wrong hands, could bring shame on the woman and her family, and her husband might even divorce her because of it. This cultural phenomenon gives great power to slimy bad guys, many of whom might usually demand sex, or sometimes money, as their blackmail payment.
The methods for how a man might obtain photos of this nature can vary. Modern technology such as camera phones and blue tooth are one way. Some men might deliberately prey on vulnerable women and sweet talk their way into getting the woman into a compromising position. Or perhaps the woman began to trust an individual and she may herself have emailed him a photo of herself. There have been cases where a woman was raped by a disgruntled acquaintance and even a case where it resulted in a woman being killed by her own male family members because of the shame brought upon the family. It is also not unusual for a woman to be sentenced to lashes as well for being guilty of putting herself in the position where photos of her got into the wrong hands.
I'm happy to report that in recent times the Saudi government responded by enacting stiff laws with severe penalties that have been put in place to protect women from blackmailing predators. The thing is, though, that these laws wouldn't be necessary if seeing a woman's hair or skin wasn't considered so taboo in the first place. Islamic law dictates that women must dress modestly. Dressing modestly in KSA is way more restrictive on women than in most other Islamic countries. There are many places where Muslim women do not cover their hair and where they are considered modestly dressed even if skin on their forearms or necks are showing. And what's even worse is that despite the laws that now protect women from blackmailers, many people still place the blame on the woman for allowing a photo of her showing her hair or some skin to get out in the first place. Naivete, foolishness, or a simple mistake can ruin a woman's reputation and possibly her life.
On a different note, it is believed that a blogger/photojournalist from Iran may be in jail. Amir may have been arrested as he took photos of the demonstrations in the streets of Iran that have been going on in protest of the questionable results of the presidential election that took place there on June 12. He has published some incredible photos of the demonstrations on his website called Tehran 24 and access to his blog has been blocked from viewing within Iran. For more photos of what has been going on in Iran, you can also check out this site.
Amir is not the first Iranian blogger to have simply disappeared without a trace. There have been several in recent years, and one even died in custody a few months ago. It is clear that the country of Iran does not have freedom of speech or freedom of the press.
In this part of the world, taking photos or simply having your photo taken can be hazardous to your well being ...