Saudi video plea to Obama

A group of Saudis have launched this video plea asking US president Barack Obama to pardon their countryman Humaidan al-Turki, who was convicted in a Colorado court four years ago for several crimes and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. The short video is well produced, and has racked up more than half a million views on YouTube so far. It features several Saudi celebrities, bringing together, probably for the first time, a Sunni cleric and a Shia cleric as well as some other notable Saudis including a columnist, a tv talk show host, and a former footballer. The idea for this video plea grew out of a column by Najeeb al-Zamil, a member of the Shoura Council, who also appears in the video. However, the highlight of the video is the emotional appearance of Ruba, the 12-year-old daughter of Humaidan.

The effort by Al-Muhannad Al-Kadam, Asem Al-Ghamdi, and the young Saudi team behind this work is no doubt commendable. But like Abdulrahman al-Lahem and John Burgess, I wonder about the real impact of the video. The case has been raised by Saudi officials in several exchanges with US counterparts, but to no avail. In December 2006, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers travelled to Riyadh to explain the original convictions to Saudi officials.

The timing to release this video was apparently chosen to coincide with the fourth anniversary of his sentence, but from the American perspective it seems like a bad timing. The controversy over building an Islamic community center near ground zero has resulted in a rise of anti-Muslim sentiments here. As John points out, “At this time, sad to say, Islam and Muslims do not enjoy favorable views by a majority of Americans. There is simply no up-side to the President’s issuing a pardon.”

In any case, and regardless of the outcome of this work, I’m certainly glad to see such grassroots effort gains traction. It is a good example of what regular citizens can do to make a difference, and it is a also a good example for the use of social media to promote a cause. The idea that started with a newspaper column now has a Facebook group with more than 26,000 members. The goal of the video, according to the website, is to deliver the Saudi point of view on this issue. I think this goal has been reached. Can this goal be a catalyst for a presidential pardon in favor of Homaidan Al-Turki, like the campaign hopes? That’s a totally different matter.

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