Saudi video plea to Obama

A group of Saudis have launched this video plea asking US president Barack Obama to pardon their countryman Humaidan al-Turki, who was convicted in a Colorado court four years ago for several crimes and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. The short video is well produced, and has racked up more than half a million views on YouTube so far. It features several Saudi celebrities, bringing together, probably for the first time, a Sunni cleric and a Shia cleric as well as some other notable Saudis including a columnist, a tv talk show host, and a former footballer. The idea for this video plea grew out of a column by Najeeb al-Zamil, a member of the Shoura Council, who also appears in the video. However, the highlight of the video is the emotional appearance of Ruba, the 12-year-old daughter of Humaidan.

The effort by Al-Muhannad Al-Kadam, Asem Al-Ghamdi, and the young Saudi team behind this work is no doubt commendable. But like Abdulrahman al-Lahem and John Burgess, I wonder about the real impact of the video. The case has been raised by Saudi officials in several exchanges with US counterparts, but to no avail. In December 2006, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers travelled to Riyadh to explain the original convictions to Saudi officials.

The timing to release this video was apparently chosen to coincide with the fourth anniversary of his sentence, but from the American perspective it seems like a bad timing. The controversy over building an Islamic community center near ground zero has resulted in a rise of anti-Muslim sentiments here. As John points out, “At this time, sad to say, Islam and Muslims do not enjoy favorable views by a majority of Americans. There is simply no up-side to the President’s issuing a pardon.”

In any case, and regardless of the outcome of this work, I’m certainly glad to see such grassroots effort gains traction. It is a good example of what regular citizens can do to make a difference, and it is a also a good example for the use of social media to promote a cause. The idea that started with a newspaper column now has a Facebook group with more than 26,000 members. The goal of the video, according to the website, is to deliver the Saudi point of view on this issue. I think this goal has been reached. Can this goal be a catalyst for a presidential pardon in favor of Homaidan Al-Turki, like the campaign hopes? That’s a totally different matter.

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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.