Who Knows the Laws?

While waiting at the train station in Ahssa, I thought it would be a good idea to take some pictures of the arrivals and departures schedule so I can consult them next time I take the train. Well, maybe it wasn’t the best idea.

Police Officer: HEY YOU! What the hell are you doing?
Me: Taking a picture of the train schedule. Is there a problem?
PO: Don’t you know that photography is prohibited?
Me: As far as I know, there is no law banning anyone from taking pictures here.
PO: Says who? Photography is prohibited in government buildings.
Me: I’m sure the law clearly states that photography is allowed in all public spaces except military buildings and places which have a sign in view saying “Photography Prohibited,” and I haven’t seen one here.
PO: There is no such law! If there was one how come I never heard of it? Show me the pictures you’ve just taken.

I show him the four pictures, he tells me to delete them, I delete them, and he tells me to go back to the waiting area. I walk back to my seat, shaking my head in disbelief of what just happened. I hear the officer loudly calling me again.

PO: Why are you shaking your head like that? You don’t like what I have told you?
Me: It doesn’t matter if I like it or not. I just found the whole deal absurd and that’s why I was shaking my head.
PO: Are you Saudi?! Shoe me your ID!

I hand him my ID, he inspects my name and asks me where I live. I calmly and politely answer in the same manner in which I responded to all his previous questions. He stares at me and then angrily shouts: “Go back to your seat!”

What happened with me at the train station could happen to anyone. You do something seemingly harmless and you find yourself in for a stupid long questioning with one of those ignorant, incompetent and rude police officers. The difference here, however, is that I knew the law was on my side. My arguing irritated him, especially that he looked like he had no idea what law I was talking about. He expected me to apologize for an offense that I never did, and I when I didn’t he didn’t know what to do with me. It didn’t help that his younger colleagues where standing there watching the scene.

Similar incidents happen all over the Kingdom all the time and one problem is that most people don’t know their rights according to the law; the other problem is that some low ranking police officers seem to believe they can abuse people just because they carry a few stripes on their shoulders.

NSHR has been working to raise awareness by publishing and distributing booklets educating people about their rights according to the Law of Criminal Procedures, which is a good step, but they also need to work with law enforcement officials to ensure that police officers know citizen’s rights and respect them.

31 thoughts on “Who Knows the Laws?

  1. Dear,

    this is the third blog message I red from your blog, and I really respect from where you stand and look at things, but unfortunately this is the last message i’m going to read from you and you have all the right to know why same as you have all the right to write about what ever you want to right about.

    I stopped reading because from three messages I found that you bare hatred towards your country “if it is Saudi Arabia” that is.

  2. Ahmed,
    I agree with you, that that policeman behaved like someone who is permitted to do everything without being punished for their incompetence.

    The policeman was wrong. It’s obvious, like obvious the fact that he wanted to abuse you, showing his superpower over citizens. You know what? I think it’s behavior of people who is week in their nature; who has problems at home; or who were abused by someone in the past.

    See, I am not driving to the point to make you feel pity towards those people. I just want you understand WHY they behave like that.

    Nevertheless, it was/is your duty to “explain” him/them his/their “mistake” via language of law.

    Policeman not better than taxi driver. Both serve to their people. So, why policemen cannot be fined or fired out the job by comparison with the taxi drivers, who suffer all the time?

  3. There’s a lot of moodiness in law enforcement over here. It’s a given and we’re all used to it. Sometimes it’s fine to run a red light in front of them, and sometimes you’re in violation for doing absolutely nothing. That spirit of having all the rules written down and closely followed is just not there. Everything seems to go on hunches and mood. Some people are good with that actually. Some people can talk their way out of most these situations. But when you get used to order and clear organization, that just won’t cut it here.

    Very sad. I usually stop taking pictures in the vicinity of policemen knowing full well that it is a legal activity. I’m just not good at talking to them so I just avoid the situation altogether.

  4. You handled it well.

    Too bad you didnt have a shawarma to offer him. It sounds like he was just looking for an excuse to be mad. If you gave him shawarma b’dujaj he’d have wanted a sharwama b’lahma.

  5. ya Allah !

    actually for me ,, i was planning to shouts a documentary about youth life in jeddah ,,, and to make a many photography trips in jeddah ,,

    so i was looking for something license to hold it with me while im making my creative works in saudi …

    so i found it in Badr’s Blog http://www.badr.cc/blog/?p=32 ,,

    i already print it ,, but i still don’t feel comfortable to start shouting around coz it has 4 papers and i know there is a lot of stupid policemen in saudi ,,

    but i’ll ,, and i’ll hold it with me,, and i don’t care about what will happen with me ,,,

    good luck for Ahmed ,,

  6. I wonder if the policeman is the one I know.
    I’ve lived in Al-Hassa for over 3 years commuting to Riyadh every 2-3 weeks.
    I myself had many issues with their incompetence, once on the street a policeman stopped me and my friends just because he had nothing to do, he asked for our ID’s then blasted “WISH ISMAK?” (What’s your name in Arabic), when it was my turn I told him that my name was Hatem (when it wasn’t) my friends looked at me like I was about to die, the policeman said nothing and started lecturing us about something I can’t recall :s

  7. It happens all the time to me at our great universities by security workers who love abusing the poor students as much as anyone who works there.
    Here’s the law in that guy’s eyes: you’re not supposed to reply. you’re not supposed to talk back to him ’cause he’s a cop or whatever. those who do what you did are not innocent angelic Saudies. that’s why he requested your ID
    My friend once told me that a closed minded idiot like the one you met stopped her car because the one who happened to drive it was a forigner. Then started talking down to the poor guy.
    hope you forgive me for replying to the first comment by Ahmad:
    It’s love towards the land we were born at that pushes us to try and sit the wrongs right. Blind patriotism, and covering up for our country’s shortcoming never did anyone any good. In fact, it’ll forever restrain us to square one while other countries are moving ahead.
    I personally consider covering up for our shortcomings is either hypocrisy or denial…

  8. Everyone have a sense of what’s right and wrong, even if they don’t know the exact laws…Police officers are immune as well as any government employers, there need to be some mechanism of reporting offenses and active third party to implement actions against violators…Here, no one is really serving the citizen, in fact, the citizen is serving all..

  9. “Sometimes it’s fine to run a red light in front of them, and sometimes you’re in violation for doing absolutely nothing.” As Jihad said, its the inconsistency that will get you. And sometimes the colour of your skin. Often a Westerner will get pulled over for speeding a fraction over the limit, while cars scream past at 160kph! Or for running a red light when 8 cars came through the intersection behind him. A Saudi we know explained it this way – that a policeman will only enforce the laws he thinks are reasonable, and not the ones he disagrees with. Most police forces around the world don’t have this luxury of choice. How can you possibly know where you stand? And, in my opinion, this blog does not reflect a hatred of Saudi Arabia. The impression I get is of a young man who loves his country but wishes it could be better. It is only through the efforts of people like you highlighting the problems in society that society will mature and advance, instead of being the difficult and isolated place it currently is. Societies all around the world are changed by ordinary people who want better lives. Good for you! Keep it up!

  10. The world’s getting crazier by the day….lol

    i’d put this matter straight put as much as possible….

    though i felt sorry for the police guy because he dose not know anything but the law…”sigh”

    it could have been done calmly but it shows that he’s just showing off.

  11. person and po both were right in their attitude …..
    one thing must be done when a out sider is comming to new country………….he should be told
    about the concern ‘s country lawssssssssss.

  12. Hi Ahmed…ironically we chose to write about the same subject at the same time!

    You handled the situation well.

    Best Regards,
    Carol (American Bedu)

  13. You think you were in the right because the law was on your side? Would you have been wrong if an official piece of paper claimed otherwise?

  14. Have you seen a movie called Das Experiment? I recommend that you watch it… and you will know why they do what they do.

    and as we say… may u live and get another one
    تعيش و تاخذ غيرها

  15. There is sure a lack of mutual respect in this society. Be it while driving, standing in queues or approaching a government department people do not show respect and understanding towards others.
    Expats are particularly looked down upon by the authorities and locals. If only people will show respect to others, understanding of each other will broaden. Civic sense is lacking all round.

  16. So you finally got a bit of treatment matted out by Saudi officials and authorities to Pakistanis and other 3rd World citizens.

    Welcome to our World….

  17. I agree with most of you. Police behaviour is the same almost everywhere, especially in 3rd world countries. “Tera Baap” are u from pakistan.

  18. This very much sounds like my mother country, Romania, during the Communist regime. I was once hit by a “militian” (policeman) in a public park for walking on the grass. I was seven. Good times, they were. (sarcasm dripping all over the place)

  19. Hello,
    I am a student in the United States, not of Middle Eastern descent. I found this blog very interesting because things like this happen everywhere. In the United States in many cases ( it is said especially in L.A) the police abuse their powers to carry out their personal prejudices .In your case it seems like the police officer was just trying to show that he has power especially since you say there were younger colleagues around. The difference with our countries is that we could have reported the police officer for misconduct, I was wondering if you can do that there? I also wanted to know if you think he would have reacted the same way towards a woman? Would he have been more gentle or harsher with her? Thanks for your time

  20. I could have reported the officer but it would take a long time and for me it is not worth wasting such long time on such incident. I can’t expect how he would deal with a woman doing the same thing.

  21. I think the police officier is the same guy i delt with a year ago when I was in the train station in Ahssa…I simply could not lift my large bag and him politely to call one of the workers….He verbally abused me..By shouting at me and telling me that I was a sissy and the workers don’t work for me….And once I got pissed off..he took my ticket and asked me to come with him to their police station…..and the story goes on….But premise of my story is that its people like him who abuse their authority should be punished !!!

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