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.