- YouTube video mashups of Saudi folk dancing with Western music have been a popular item on this blog. Here is the latest in this series, courtesy of Mctoom.
- Ahmed Ba-Aboud: “When would reforms in Saudi Arabia be real reforms and not the gift of the King? It is when those reforms focus on finding solutions to the real issues of the country rather than creating more fictional wars.”
- Speaking of reforms, Human Rights Watch recently released their report on Saudi Arabia in which they try to review and evaluate the past five years. The report is well written and reaches a conclusion many of us already know: there have been some changes here and there, but there is still much more to do, and these changes need to be institutionalized to ensure their sustainability.
- Jordanian blogger Ahmad Humeid writes about the new opportunities that the iPhone and the iPad offer to software developers in the Arab World, with a shout out to my good friend Bandar Raffah.
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.
I was one of the people who have had a chance to meet with a delegation from Human Rights Watch during their fact-finding missions to the country in 2006 and 2008, and therefore I was looking forward to read the results of these visits. HRW released two reports that you can find here and here.
I have been going through their report on the criminal justice and, as expected, the picture drawn in there is not pretty. The report is highly critical to several government bodies as well as the justice system. The report also notes some steps were taken to reform laws and procedures but says these reforms has been slow and had has had little effect on the rights of defendants. An excerpt:
Saudi Arabia should tackle the fundamental shortcomings of its judicial system by reforming its laws and its criminal procedures, from arrest through imprisonment, to ensure that they comply with international human rights standards. At present, the shortcomings in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system are so pervasive as to leave grave doubt that Saudi courts have established the guilt of sentenced prisoners in a fair trial and that law enforcement officers detain untried defendants on a sound legal basis.
One of the main sources of these shortcomings is the absence of a constitution in which laws and regulation are rooted. The Basic Law, issued in 1992, is dubbed by the report a “proto-constitution” but the problem with this document is that it doesn’t enumerate the rights and duties of citizens. Some critics like Khalid al-Dakhil think The Basic Law is a good start on which we can build to formulate a constitution, while others like Abdullah al-Hamid propose a whole new document that they call the “Islamic Constitution.”