Who Knows the Laws?

While waiting at the train station in Ahssa, I thought it would be a good idea to take some pictures of the arrivals and departures schedule so I can consult them next time I take the train. Well, maybe it wasn’t the best idea.

Police Officer: HEY YOU! What the hell are you doing?
Me: Taking a picture of the train schedule. Is there a problem?
PO: Don’t you know that photography is prohibited?
Me: As far as I know, there is no law banning anyone from taking pictures here.
PO: Says who? Photography is prohibited in government buildings.
Me: I’m sure the law clearly states that photography is allowed in all public spaces except military buildings and places which have a sign in view saying “Photography Prohibited,” and I haven’t seen one here.
PO: There is no such law! If there was one how come I never heard of it? Show me the pictures you’ve just taken.

I show him the four pictures, he tells me to delete them, I delete them, and he tells me to go back to the waiting area. I walk back to my seat, shaking my head in disbelief of what just happened. I hear the officer loudly calling me again.

PO: Why are you shaking your head like that? You don’t like what I have told you?
Me: It doesn’t matter if I like it or not. I just found the whole deal absurd and that’s why I was shaking my head.
PO: Are you Saudi?! Shoe me your ID!

I hand him my ID, he inspects my name and asks me where I live. I calmly and politely answer in the same manner in which I responded to all his previous questions. He stares at me and then angrily shouts: “Go back to your seat!”

What happened with me at the train station could happen to anyone. You do something seemingly harmless and you find yourself in for a stupid long questioning with one of those ignorant, incompetent and rude police officers. The difference here, however, is that I knew the law was on my side. My arguing irritated him, especially that he looked like he had no idea what law I was talking about. He expected me to apologize for an offense that I never did, and I when I didn’t he didn’t know what to do with me. It didn’t help that his younger colleagues where standing there watching the scene.

Similar incidents happen all over the Kingdom all the time and one problem is that most people don’t know their rights according to the law; the other problem is that some low ranking police officers seem to believe they can abuse people just because they carry a few stripes on their shoulders.

NSHR has been working to raise awareness by publishing and distributing booklets educating people about their rights according to the Law of Criminal Procedures, which is a good step, but they also need to work with law enforcement officials to ensure that police officers know citizen’s rights and respect them.