- One thing that I failed to mention in my last blogpost about the new online media law is that MOCI has broken one of their promises. Back in March 2010, Abdulrahman al-Hazza said the ministry has no plans to pre-approve the editors of news website like they do with newspapers. The text of the law that came out on Saturday listed the approval of the editor-in-chief by the ministry as one of the conditions to register an “electronic newspaper.” MOCI keeps saying that they are extending a hands to us and we should trust them, but how are we supposed to trust them when they can’t even keep their word?
- Over 100 Saudi citizens signed an open letter to the Shoura Council, asking the Council to discuss the issue of women’s driving. I know, I know. It is indeed sad that we are still discussing this, but that’s Saudi Arabia for you. The signatories suggested a trial period for women’s driving, where women are only allowed to drive in a certain city during a certain time of the day, among other conditions and restrictions. I see what they are trying to do, which is to find a practical approach to implement this, but honestly I hate this gradual oh-let’s-consider-the-feelings-of-our-super-senseitive-society way to do things. A basic right is a basic right. Let’s get this over with and move on.
- American Bedu has a nice interview with Tariq al-Maeena, columnist for Arab News. I met Tariq in Jeddah during the Saudi BlogCamp. I find it strange that despite being married to an American, he does not encourage Saudis to marry foreigners and thinks the government should have some stringent demands before approving a Saudi’s request for a foreign partner.
- It rained in Jeddah again, and again it was pretty bad.
- During my time in Riyadh I had a chance to closely watch the expat community there. One fascinating aspect of that community, of course, was the relationships between men and women. The interaction between the expats and the social restrictions of the city creates an interesting dynamic, although I have to admit that listening to their gossip sometimes felt like watching some lame soap opera. But if this is your thing, then you should read orchidthief’s blogpost about cheating among the expat community.
Although I have previously complained about the vagueness of some articles in Saudi Arabia’s newly implemented E-Crimes Act, my conviction was that having a flawed law that could be rectified later is better that not having a law at all. Today, Arab News runs this story about a man from my hometown of Ahsa who has been prosecuted according to the new law.
A court in the Eastern Province city fined the man SR50,000, sentenced him to 22 months in jail and 200 lashes for breaking into an e-mail account of a young woman and getting personal photos of her. The man was found guilty of blackmailing the woman by threatening to disseminate her pictures online and to her parents if she did not agree to have an affair with him.
However, there is something here that I don’t understand. I have read the E-Crimes Act and I can’t find any mention of lashing as a punishment for committing any of the violations there. Under the new law, people found guilty of using computers to commit crimes could face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to SR5 million, but lashing is not one of the punishments the law stated for these crimes.
How come that this man is being sentenced to a punishment that can’t be found in the law? How can this happen? Are the judges free to add any punishment they think is appropriate for a crime even if it is not part of the law on which the accused is being prosecuted?
One of the courses I’m taking this summer is Pharmacy Law. The current law was issued few years ago to replace the first law that regulated the profession of pharmacy in Saudi Arabia which has been used since the 1960’s. There is no such thing as a perfect law, and this one is no exception. My professor has repeatedly criticized it throughout the classes, pointing out many of its loopholes and shortcomings.
While many of the law’s problems lie in the details, one major flaw stands out because it is not limited to the pharmacy law but rather universal and is directly related to how our government is functioning.
Many (all?) laws regulating different professions in the country are issued by a single authority that is the Council of Ministers, chaired by the King. Saudi Arabia is a huge country, and this centralized approach of governing is overwhelming to the Council of Ministers which has to approve every little detail in a very wide variety of laws and regulations. Even a tiny change in one article of a preexistent law takes years to be approved and implemented. Keep in mind that we don’t even have a parliament which could stop the government from doing whatever they want to do. Yet, the process remains slow, and this slowness is bad for people and bad for business.
The government should consider moving some from their responsibilities to other entities such as civil society organizations and independent government bodies. Unfortunately, we severely lack such institutions in our country.
Saudi Arabia has recently passed a new law for regulation of civil society organizations. The new law has received a lukewarm response, but hopes remain high that it would propel the creation of new organizations and bodies. However, the concept of civil society is closely connected to democratic systems. Considering the current political situation in the country, it is debatable if civil society can flourish here and lead to significant changes.
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:
- A judge has sentenced a chemistry professor to 600 lashes and 8 months in jail for an alleged ‘telephone relationship’ with a female student.
- Another judge ordered a plaintiff out of his courtroom until he trimmed his mustache.
- Yet another judge has been arrested in Dubai on charges of possessing and using drugs. MOJ denied their knowledge of the guy.
- Last but not least, a judge from Al-Russ has been linked to a sex scandal.
How are we supposed to trust that our cases will end up in the right hands?
As the new reforms on the legal system are yet to be implemented, I guess that some judges thought they would use whatever left of time for the current system to demonstrate their misjudgment and lack of intelligence. It was not enough for them to sentence the Qatif girl to 90 lashes a year ago, so they decided to more than double the number of lashes plus six months of jail. The girl is a rape victim, but apparently being raped is not enough to spare her the punishment for something called ‘khulwa’.
Now what kind of ‘khulwa’ that would take place in front of a crowded shopping mall is beyond my comprehension, but that’s just me. I’m pretty sure our esteemed judges and those who support this bizarre ruling have many justifications to present upon request, but then again, who on earth am I to question a court which uses the word ‘sharia’ to legitimize their decisions no matter how absurd these decisions are?
Some people have asked me why I have not written about this earlier, and the reason is because I was angry, disgusted and depressed. Those following me on Twitter have probably seen this, and although I have been discussing the issues with my family and friends who share the same feelings with me, I could not bring myself to write about it without using some kind of language that I’d rather not to use on the blog.
The victim’s lawyer Abdul Rahman Al Lahem has been suspended from the case and faces a disciplinary session because the judge thinks that Al Lahem was using the media to affect the court’s ruling. Now how can the media be used to affect the ruling is anyone’s guess, but why should the judge be affected by the media might be something we should be looking at, because as far as I have been told, our right honorable judges are very wise men who claim to base their verdicts on Qura and Sunna, not some blabbering in the media. Anyway, it is not the first time that Al Lahem faces a problem like this. He has been jailed before for defending reformists but he continued his work as Saudi Arabia’s most important human rights lawyer.
It is up to the appeal court now to confront this unjust ruling and finish the suffering of the girl and her husband who bravely stood up beside his wife. Otherwise, this case might require the interference of the king in order for justice and common sense to prevail. Let’s hope they will prevail in the end.