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Intolerance, Saudi-Style

 Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

— Voltaire

Meanwhile, back in Saudi Arabia. . . .

For a brief time it seemed that our friends and allies, the Saudis, might be on the verge of getting one thing right. In early November it was reported that King Abdullah’s advisory council had recommended that the government ease its ban on female drivers. Women are banned from driving by religious edicts issued by senior clerics who believe permitting women to drive encourages licentiousness.  Under the proposed action, the ban would have been modified.

The council recommended that (a) women over the age of 30, (b) wearing no lipstick or other makeup, (c) conservatively dressed and, (d) with the permission of a male relative, be permitted to drive from 7 AM to 8 PM Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 PM Thursday and Friday.  When driving in the city a woman would not have to be accompanied by a male relative.  Outside the city, however, a male relative would have to be in the car.  No sooner was this development reported than it was denied by an official.  Events taking place shortly after his denial proved that his denial had more substance than the original report.

On December 1,2014 two Saudi women were arrested after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. After a one-week’s detention authorities announced they would be held until December 25th. On December 25th the two women were referred to a court in Riyad created specifically to try terrorism cases.  At the time of the arrest there was no suggestion that either of the women was a bad driver so the referral to a court created to try terrorists made little sense. As of this writing they remain confined and have been confined longer than any other Saudi woman for the offense of driving. As things go in that fair kingdom, however, that is a minor issue. How some Saudi citizens are dealt with, apart from the ban on women drivers, came into sharp focus following the mass killing in Paris that was in retaliation for what the murderers believed was a literary assault on Mohammad by those they murdered.  Yemen was the country in which the murderers were reportedly trained.  Yemen is not our ally.  Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s neighbor, is.

On December 18, 2014 we learned that Saudi Arabia had passed a new law that imposes the death penalty on anyone caught trying to smuggle a Bible into the country.  The new Saudi law brings Jeffrey Fowle to mind. Jeffrey was imprisoned in North Korea from mid-May 2014 to October 21,2014 because he left a Bible in a nightclub in North Korea. Owning a Bible in North Korea is a capital offense punishable by death.  North Korea is not our ally.  Saudi Arabia is.

Raif Badawi is a Saudi citizen who started an Internet forum called “Free Saudi Liberals” that discussed the role of religion in Saudi Arabia.  He was arrested by authorities in July 2012 and charged with cyber crime and disobeying his father.  According to Human Rights Watch he founded his website in 2008 to “encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia.  Articles on his website were critical of senior religious figures. At his first trial he was sentenced to 7 years in jail and 600 lashes.  In July 2014 an appellate court ordered a new trial.  At the second trial Badawi was sentenced to 5 years in prison and fined one million riyals for creating his website and an additional five years in prison and 1,000 public lashes for “blasphemous phrases on his Face book page and disobedience to his father. He doesn’t get all the lashes at one time.  There will be 20 sessions of 50 lashes each.  Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Ab al-Khair, didn’t have a better summer than his client.

As reported by Human Rights Watch, on July 2014 al-Khair received a 5-year prison sentence because he criticized Saudi human rights abuses in media interviews and on social media.

The same day Badawi was sentenced, the same court sentenced the administrator of a website to six years in jail and a 50,000 riyal fine.  His crime was “supporting Internet forums hostile to the state. . . which promoted demonstrations.” Another website administrator got a five year sentence for publishing a column written by a Sh’ite Muslim cleric.

Fahdil al-Manasif helped international journalists who were covering protests that occurred as a result of Saudi treatment of Shia Muslims in the eastern province of the country.  He will spend 14 years in prison for his efforts. On November 3, 2014 Mikhlif al-Shammari was sentenced to two years in prison and 200 lashes.  One of his crimes was visiting a prominent Shia figure in the eastern part of the country as a goodwill gesture. What all of those victims of the Saudi criminal justice system have in common is that their offenses related strictly to intellectual activities and not physical violence. What all of them have in common is that none of them was writing satire.  One can only guess how our Saudi allies would react to a satirist making fun of Saudi authorities.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney in Boulder, Colorado.

 

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