Human Rights Watch has urged courts in Jeddah to dismiss a case against Rai’f Badawi, founder of Saudi Liberals forums. On May 5, the prosecutor charged Badawi with “setting up an electronic site that insults Islam,” and referred the case to court, asking for a five-year prison sentence and a 3 million riyal fine.
Badawi no longer owns or controls the website. After unknown hackers, who probably think they were doing some sort of electronic jihad, attacked the website several times and threatened him and his family, he sold the website and fled the country two weeks ago. A new owner announced a while ago that he took over the website, which has been offline for more than a week now.
It is understood that Badawi will be tried according to the E-Crimes Act that has been issued in March 2007. The act, which can be found here (Arabic PDF), contains some laws that seem to target free speech such as Article 6 which incriminates “producing content which violates general order, religious values, public morals or sanctity of private life, or preparing it, or sending it, or storing it via the network or a computer.”
The questions is: who defines and specifies what are those religious values and what are those public morals? I don’t know if this act has been approved by the Shoura Council or not, because I think it is unacceptable for the Council to approve such act that contains these vague laws and articles which contradicts international conventions and accords on which Saudi Arabia is a signatory.
On a related note, Amnesty International are appealing for Muhammad Ali Abu Raziza, a psychology professor at the University of Um al-Qura, who has been sentenced to 150 lashes and eight months’ imprisonment for meeting a woman in a coffee shop. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this case and the reports on it in the local press has been full of contradictions. Therefor, I can’t make up my mind on who is at fault here.
However, I think the Commission should seriously reconsider how to define and deal with this whole “khulwa” thing. When a man and a woman meet in a public place like a cafe, a restaurant, or in the street where they are surrounded by people and others can see them, does it constitute a khulwa? I doubt that they will ever think this through but I guess it’s worth asking anyway.