Samar

Samar Badawi has always struggled with her father. He abused her verbally and physically, and even after she got married and had a son of her own, he kept interfering with her life. She got divorced, and decided to live with her brother. The father tried to sue his son and daughter, who was taken to a women’s shelter thanks to an order from Prince Mishal bin Majed, the mayor of Jeddah.

The father did not stop there. He tried to sue Samar again, but the case was dismissed. After staying in the shelter for sixteen months, she sent a letter to the mayor asking for permission to live with her son. The mayor accepted her request, and asked the police to protect her from the father.

Samar filed a lawsuit to lift her father’s guardianship, and the court ruled in her favor. The father filed a “filial ingratitude” complaint against her. When she went to challenge the complaint, “the judge pledged to teach her obedience and flog her himself.” Despite the previous court rulings and her father’s documented abuse, and even a royal order from Prince Khalid al-Faisal, governor of Makkah, to send her back to the shelter, the judge sent her to prison.

Samar told the Financial Times that the judge thinks a woman must submit to her father, regardless of how abusive he is. “Conservative judges hate the government’s women’s shelters because they empower women. They call them brothels,” she said.

This was six months ago. It was only last week that Samar and her lawyer decided to go public with the case. Since the local newspapers won’t pick up a sensitive story like this one, they went online. With help of fellow blogger Fouad al-Farhan, they set up a blog where they told Samar’s story and uploaded all the documents of her case. The case was also heavily discussed on Twitter, where users in Saudi Arabia used the hashtag #samar to denote their tweets about it.

While Samar enjoyed a lot of support from most users on Twitter, there have been some people who defended the judge, saying the case is being used to attack the Saudi judicial system. Moreover, a blog was to “basically show how the people responsible for the news breakout are not credible, liberal westernizers,” according Lou K.

Earlier today, Samar’s lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair tweeted that the Supreme Judicial Council has opened an investigation into the case, anticipating a resolution in the next few days.

Samar’s story is undoubtedly a disturbing, heartbreaking one. It’s surely nor over yet, but now that the case is — I hope — moving forward, let me take a moment to say two of things about this:

  • The case shows that despite all the promises and the billions of riyals allocated to reform the judiciary system, we are still so far away from anywhere near a true reform for this institution. It’s been three years, and we are yet to see any tangible progress.
  • While many people still like to question the power of web and social media to make a difference to our society, this case offers a good evidence that the influence of online tools can be effective. Remember, the story was not picked up by any newspaper in Saudi Arabia so far.

I salute Fouad, Waleed and the others who supported this case. It fills my heart with hope to see many of my countrymen and women speak up and refuse to ignore injustice. Our nation deserves better than this, and we should never settle for less.

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  • The minister of justice said his department is drafting a law that would allow female lawyers to argue legal cases in court for the first time. Progress, I guess.
  • Finally al-Ahsa is getting its share of the development cake. I was hoping that SAGIA would choose the region for its new project, but it’s actually SCTA that decided to invest here. Al-Oqair beach, one of my favouirte spots on the east coast, will be the home for a SR50b tourist city that is expected to create 80,000 jobs and generate SR100m in annual revenue.

Good Luck with That

Saudi Aramco is being sued for one million riyals. Not over their long time use of natural resources in the EP without considering the environmental consequences, and not over being a country within a country where the rules that govern the rest of Saudi Arabia do not necessarily apply, but over a dead animal. According to Saudi Gazette, Abdullah Al-Saiari is suing the giant oil company for causing the death of an alleged beauty contest female camel which died when she tripped into a big hole that Aramco had dug and filled it up with crude oil in a desert pasture land, 250 km west of Ahsa. 1m SR is probably nothing for a multi billion-dollars company like Aramco, but can a camel breeder win a case against the oil giant? The news item says the General Court in Khobar is looking into the case, but since Aramco is owned by the government, shouldn’t this case be brought into the Court of Grievances? Hmmm…

Injustice

After the recent blunders of our very dysfunctional justice system, you would think judges will become more careful when they handle some cases. Not so much, unfortunately.

The latest episode of this depressing, long nightmare comes from a little town in the north, where a 75-year-old Syrian woman was sentenced to 40 lashes, four months imprisonment and deportation from the kingdom for having two unrelated men in her house. The two men, who were reportedly bringing her bread, including one who was her late husband’s nephew, were also found guilty and sentenced to prison and lashes.

So Saudi Arabia takes another slap in the face. It is also a slap in the face for the new minister of justice, who obviously needs to fight really hard in order to end the embarrassments caused by our courts and implement the much publicized changes in the justice system.

It is good to know that the brilliant human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem has traveled to Hail to take the case. He said he plans to appeal the verdict, and I totally trust him to win this battle, not just for the sake of the old woman and the two young men, but also for the cause of justice and human rights in this country.

Related:

Court of Embarrassment

Not so long ago, criticizing the judiciary was a taboo in this country. But with more people learning more about their rights and finding new outlets to express their dissatisfaction, they began to clearly show their impatience with the performance of the justice system. The system has become a battlefield between reformers who demanded change and conservatives who defended the judges fiercely, arguing that since their verdicts are based on Sharia then they should be unquestionable.

Luckily for the rest of us though, the complaints did not fall on deaf ears. In October 2007, King Abdullah announced a $2bn plan to overhaul the legal system. It is a large undertaking and it will certainly take a long time to see the effects of this plan. The resistance of the old guard in the system will only make this process slower and more difficult. But one of the good immediate effects of this plan is that it has placed the judges under increased scrutiny. The past two years have witnessed a number of high profile cases that attracted much attention from people and the media, not just in Saudi Arabia but around the world.

I think that last week’s case in Onaiza, where a court rejected a divorce petition filed by the mother of a an eight-year-old girl whose father married her to a 58-year-old man, should be seen in that context. Sure, the verdict is outrageous and unfair, but hey, this is the K of SA, a country where judges are not tied to written laws and justice is a subjective matter that pretty much depends on their whims. Does Sheikh Habib al-Habib know that his government has singed the international Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1996? I don’t think he does, and I think he does not care because such international laws are made by mere mortals while he probably believes that he is applying God’s laws.

Abdullah Al-Jutaili, the lawyer representing the girl’s divorced mother, said he was going to appeal the verdict. Let’s hope judges at the appeals court will be wiser than their colleague here when they deal with this case that not only exemplified the kind of injustices the people of this country have to go through when their misfortunate leads them to a court, but also further tarnished the already distorted image of Saudi Arabia in the world.

Judges Gone Wild

If writing about the Commission is like beating a dead horse, then writing about the judicial system is like… beating a dead mule. There is much to say, but I will leave these recent examples talk for themselves:

How are we supposed to trust that our cases will end up in the right hands?