Dude, What’s with the Lashing?

Another day, another outrageous lashing sentence.

On Saturday, a court in Jeddah sentenced 22-year-old female journalist Roazanna al-Yamai to 60 lashes for her alleged involvement in the infamous case of Mazen Abdul-Jawad, aka the TV sex braggart. Few minutes ago, AP reported that King Abdullah has waived the sentence and ordered the case be referred to the legal committee at the Ministry of Culture and Information. Well, this should have happened without a royal intervention, but I’m relieved the sentence will not be carried out.

This case aside, I am astonished by the very liberal use of lashing sentences by our right honorable judges. Is this some sort of fetish, as Asmaa once said? Do these sentences say something about struggle to reform the judicial system? Personally, I think that except for the few cases explicitly specified in Quran, lashing should be stopped once and for all. No human being should be given the power to inflect this kind of punishment on another human being, simply.

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The End is Nigh?

Saudi Arabia’s top judiciary official has issued a religious decree saying it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV networks that broadcast immoral content. The 79-year-old Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan said Thursday that satellite channels cause the “deviance of thousands of people.”

He did not name any particular channel, but many of the top Arab TV networks like Rotana and MBC are owned by members of the royal family or people closely connected to them. Is this the end to al-Lihedan reign at the top of the judiciary system, especially with the upcoming reforms proposed by the king last year? It is about time.

UPDATE: Al-Lihedan says he was misunderstood and that his statement has been taken out of context. Yeah, right. Whatever!

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?

Legal Matters

Abdullah Al-Alsheikh, the Minister of Justice, has recently given a lengthy interview (Arabic) to Asharq Al-Awsat where he made some interesting comments about the performance of the ministry and other related issues. MOJ has become under increased scrutiny following bizarre judgments in some high profile cases such as the Qatif Girl case.

I was disappointed to read that a committee from MOJ is working on the US$ 1.86bn plan the King ordered to overhaul the judicial system in the country. How can the very same people who created, or inherited, the current system, and didn’t see anything wrong with it until the King spoke, be responsible to implement the kind of radical changes proposed in the plan when they seemed for a very long time rather comfortable with the status quo?

I think it would have been better to bring people from outside the establishment to fix it as I don’t expect much from those who didn’t produce much in the first place. Actually, using the word “system” to describe the present situation of the legal process is some sort of a compliment. “Chaos” is the word I would use to describe what citizens have to endure in the courts.

We suffer from a sever shortage in the number of judges: the idea of having only 600 judges to serve the needs of 25m population is simply incomprehensible. According to legal experts, this shortage is the result of the current method of choosing judges which is based on regional, tribal and religious considerations, instead of qualifications and experience. The direct effect of this situation is that most cases takes years and years to be resolved, violating the basic human right of access to a fair speedy trial.

Another urgent matter that MOJ must take care of is the obvious need to a clear set of codified laws. Currently, people are at the whims of judges who can in the absence of any specific reference pass completely different judgments on very similar cases. Say someone stole a car; he could be lucky to catch a pleasant judge who happens to be in a good mood that day and sentence him to three weeks of community service, or he could be unlucky to catch a cranky judge on a bad day and sentence him to 150 lashes plus 2 months in jail.

The minister said they are still studying codifying the Sharia, and they will continue doing that over the next few months. I am afraid that after they take forever to finish this study they may conclude that they don’t need to codify anything. Unlikely, but possible considering the recent history of this ministry.

On Justice and Constitution

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.

justice_ministry

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.”

Following the Pardon

The Qatif Girl – and her male friend – have received a pardon from King Abdullah, as I posted yesterday. I have to add that I got the word about two weeks ago from sources close to the matter that the girl would be pardoned, but I decided to withhold that piece of information because I thought the pardon won’t be announced until Eid Al Adha as it is customary for the King to issue a general pardon on similar occasions.

The reactions to the pardon have been mixed. For my part, as the New York Times said, I was relieved that the sentence won’t be carried out, but what I have not said in my earlier post is that I was disturbed by the statements of the minister of justice which came out with the news of the pardon. The minister insisted the pardon was not issued because the sentence was unjust, but simply because it was in the interest of the greater good. These statements made it look as if there was nothing wrong with the brutal sentence and the King decided to pardon the girl because of international pressure. I believe that if the King saw nothing wrong with the trial then he would have let the victim appeal and go with the case to the higher court, and then, after all appeals have been exhausted, he would interfere to spare her the suffering.

However, Abu Joori and others pointed out that this is not the end, because there are other injustices still taking place in the Saudi courts. I agree. The Qatif Girl was lucky to have a supporting husband and a courageous lawyer, something that many others probably don’t have, but the big publicity this case received would contribute to shed more light on the state of the legal system and bootstrap the the reforms announced in October.

This case has caused a tremendous embarrassment to the country, but I don’t think the King pardoned the victims just because he wanted to silence the critics. At the same time that I and others were expressing our relief, the extremists here were lashing out saying the pardon would encourage more people to question the rulings of the courts, a sin in their eyes because they believe judges are holy figures who should not be touched.

Much respect to the brave lawyer Abdul-Rahman Al Lahem for his courage and patience. I still remember when someone called in on a TV show and accused him of taking the case because he was after fame. “I don’t mind becoming famous for doing the right thing,” Al Lahem responded. Much respect to the girl’s husband for standing by his wife like a real man. Thank you to all the people who supported this case on blogs, internet forums and the international media. And finally, a short message to the local media: shame on you for ignoring this case; once again you prove that you are such a waste of time and money.

UPDATE: According to Arab News, the official pardon which was released late Monday night by the king said that the Qatif Girl had been subjected to “a brutal crime”. The pardon continued to say that the pardon was “because the woman and the man who was with her were subject to torture and stubbornness that is considered in itself sufficient in disciplining both of them and to learn from the lesson.” The king also ordered the Ministry of Justice to give the rapists the strictest sentence possible for their crime.