Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Saudi Arabia's Brand of "Justice"

When barely-out-of-his-teens Saudi poet and journalist Hamza Kashgari tweeted a few thoughts back in February of 2012 on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, the Saudi government hunted him down like a dog to bring him to justice.  The young man fled Saudi Arabia but was extradited from Malaysia and returned to his country to await trial.   
Tweeter Hamza Kashgari
 In three little tweets that came to just over 100 words, Hamza’s life changed forever.   Saudi clerics were outraged and offended by Hamza’s “blasphemous” utterings, calling for him to be charged with apostasy, a crime in the Islamic country of Saudi Arabia which is punishable by death.
The following are the three tweets that shook up the Muslim world so badly that his words triggered the creation of a Facebook group crying for his execution that within a matter of days grew to over 26,000 members:

“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”
“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”
“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.”

Hamza’s case has been filled with controversy.  His apology and repentance for his “crime” has not been enough to appease the government, although many feel that his repentance should be adequate. 

The manner in which the Saudi government was able to get their hands on him in the first place was, at best, conniving and deceitful.  Hamza intended to apply for political asylum in New Zealand, but he never made it.  There are no extradition agreements between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, yet that’s where he was arrested.  Malaysian lawyers have stated, "The initial claim of Interpol's involvement was a blatant attempt to varnish the arrest with a veneer of international legitimacy since the arrest could not be justified under international law as Hamza was clearly a political refugee.” 

Disparaging remarks have been made about Hamza’s heritage, with many Saudis expressing in true tribal mentality that he is “not Saudi enough,” as if no pure or true Saudi would ever say the offensive things that Hamza said.

There might be more to Hamza's case than merely an offense against Islam.  Some surmise that it is politically driven and that the Saudi government is using Hamza as an example to those who might be tempted to instigate rebellion within the country along the lines of the Arab Spring, which didn’t really happen in Saudi Arabia. 

One year later, Hamza still languishes in prison, untried.  In Saudi Arabia, the right to a speedy trial isn’t important. 

Rizana Nafeek ‘s case was also clouded in controversy.  The young Sri Lankan housemaid was beheaded last month here in Saudi Arabia for allegedly killing an infant in her care in 2005.  Many claim that she was railroaded and was not given adequate representation or a fair trial.   The housemaid also withdrew a “confession” that she had made, claiming it was made “under duress.” 
Sri Lankan Housemaid Rizana Nafeek
 Legitimate questions have been raised regarding Rizana's age at the time of the “crime,” with some reports indicating that Rizana was only 15 when the baby died of suffocation.  The baby’s family refused to accept the payment of “blood money,” which would have exonerated the young maid, and instead insisted on her execution. 

Most middle and upper class Saudi families employ housemaids.  It is a well-known fact that some Saudi families mistreat and abuse these domestic workers, who come to the kingdom from poorer countries like India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Malaysia.  Many housemaids don’t get any days off and are treated more like slaves than employees, working long hours for very low wages.  

Nisha Varia fromHuman Rights Watch had this to say about the plight of many domestic workers in Saudi Arabia:  "The Saudi justice system is characterized by arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and harsh punishments.  Migrants are at high risk of being victims of spurious charges.  A domestic worker facing abuse or exploitation from her employer might run away and then be accused of theft.  Employers may accuse domestic workers, especially those from Indonesia, of witchcraft.  Victims of rape and sexual assault are at risk of being accused of adultery and fornication."

At this moment in time, more than 45 foreign housemaids are on death row in Saudi Arabia.   Despite worldwide criticism after the execution of Rizana, Saudi Arabia stands firm in defense of its actions.   You see, Saudi Arabia doesn’t really care about its image to the rest of theworld.  

The last case I wish to highlight in this post is that of five-year-old Lama Al Ghamdi.  Lama was raped, tortured, beaten and murderedby her own father, Sheikh Fayhan Al Ghamdi, a well-known Saudi preacher who has appeared on religious programs in the kingdom many times.  Al Ghamdi has admitted that he tortured his daughter.  Lama’s injuries included a crushed skull, broken back, broken arm, and broken ribs, and reports say that she was raped “everywhere.”   There are conflicting reports as to whether Al Ghamdi is still incarcerated or not.  Some reports say that he was jailed for only about four months and was released. 

Murdered 5-yr-old Lama Al Ghamdi
 Global outrage was sparked last week when it was reported that a judge apparently ruled that the few months that Al Ghamdi already served in jail was adequate punishment and ordered him to pay “blood money” (about $50,000 US).   Anothercourt date is set in about two weeks’ time. 

Three very different cases.  We already know the tragic outcome of Rizana’s case.  The other two cases have not yet played out.  Saudi Arabia’s own brand of “justice” discriminates against foreign workers, political activists, females, and children.   When I read about cases like these in the news, I cannot help but think that Saudi Arabia has screwed up priorities and values and is in total denial about what a dysfunctional society it really is.   

18 comments:

  1. Bloodmoney? How can this be considered compensation in any way? Seems more like a bribe or even blackmail. This is barbaric. The housemaid is beheaded for a tragic accident... A father is in prison for 4 months for a gruesome deviant intentional attack that killed his own daughter?
    The poet accused of Apostasy? How could his words lead to that charge? Nonsense!
    Mohammed(pbuh)was a human being, not a God.

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    1. Hi Yellowflower - I don't agree with blood money. If anything, blood money should be considered more as payment in a civil suit, and certainly not a criminal case. The whole idea just leaves a bad taste in one's mouth!

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  2. Salam,
    Honestly, I'm not sure about the Malaysian housemaids, I've heard of Malaysian nurses. Is there a Malaysian housemaid there?

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    1. Hi LM - My sister-in-law had Malaysian housemaids for many years. I don't know how common they are at this time.

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  3. Thank you, Susie, for posting this blog. I pray for you and pray that when more and more people become aware of the inhumane treatment meted out in that society, that this exposure will cause those who dole it out to reconsider their actions.

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    1. I think it's important to keep the pressure on at this point until we know the final judgment in Lama's case. We were all shocked when the initial word was that her father was being let off with basically a slap on the wrist.

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  4. It is a completely screwed up and dysfunctional society, no doubt about that indeed. It enrages me that a bunch of backward men successfully manage to enforce the most pathetic laws over the whole nation! How can they be stopped?!

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    1. Unfortunately these men really don't care what the rest of the world thinks. However if we raise awareness and there is enough of an outcry from within the kingdom, hopefully things will change ... although I am continually mystified at the outrageous garbage they continue to come up with. The latest is a sheikh who made a fatwa that baby girls should be dressed in burqas so to protect them from being raped!!! As if a burqa on a baby would prevent some sick bastard from raping her... Men in this society need to stop looking at babies (and every female for that matter) as sexual objects.

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  5. Certain facts need to be corrected. Check story on 5 yr old girl at:
    http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/04/world/meast/saudi-arabia-girl-death/index.html

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    1. Thanks - what I stated in this post was all reported originally. We are still not completely clear on all the details of this case, but I did reference/link the article you linked to in my post.

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  6. Please check out: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/04/world/meast/saudi-arabia-girl-death/index.html for an update.

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  7. Blasphemy is such a vague category. The things that Hamza Kashgari tweeted were simply things that are supposed to be true. After all Mohammed was a man not a deity. To remind people on his birthday of this is hardly insulting (how one can insult the dead is something that needs explaining). When Muslims criticize Christianity for calling Jesus a god, they are disingenuous. The treat their late prophet as if he were a god.

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    1. Hi Jerry - I don't find what Hamza tweeted to be offensive at all. I don't think the Prophet himself would have found his remarks offensive either, from what I know of the man. I feel Hamza's remarks were harmless enough and certainly don't warrant the outcry they provoked. I'm waiting to hear the outrage from the Saudi clerics about poor Lama - but their silence is deafening.

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  8. Fascinating story. Thanks for this wonderful site. I'll be back!

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  9. Those tweets don't seem to amount to blasphemy. But what really makes me and the rest of the world enraged is men that can torture and rape their tiny daughters - and get away with it! Outrageous.

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  10. Thanks Susie for the enchanting translation of Hamza's words and thanks for bringing up those sad issues

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  11. Hi, Susie. Excellent blog, excellent post. However, I find it difficult to read what you are reporting as Tunisians are battling off influence from the Gulf for just these reasons. The big bucks flowing into right wing religious groups suggest that Tunisia's brand of modernity and attempts at democracy disturb those in power in the Gulf. What if Tunisian women achieved parity? They're not far from it, however, they're battling to keep their rights in the face of extremism. Keep up the good work.
    best from Tunisia,
    nadia

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  12. Hi Susi, Thank you for picking some items of injustis....If all expats would leave the country protesting against this barbaric laws---- something would change.... But this is a dream ..... money corupt nearly everything-----take care ....

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