Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism laws officially say that atheists and others who commit thought crimes are the same as terrorists.
“The interior ministry regulations [introduced over the last three months] include … sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Included under the terrorism provisions is the ban on “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
In Saudi Arabia, even if you’re not an atheist or a dissident, severe punishment can still be inflicted on you just for saying what’s on your mind. Even giving support to freethinkers is considered a crime in the kingdom.
Article 4 of the kingdom’s Basic Law states: “Anyone who aids [‘terrorist’] organizations, groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form, or using slogans of these groups and currents [of thought], or any symbols which point to support or sympathy with them.”
In a blog post, Brian Whitaker at al-bab.com writes: “Since the entire system of government is based on Wahhabi interpretations of Islam, non-believers are assumed to be enemies of the Saudi state.”
Under the new decree by King Abdullah, anyone who participates in conflicts outside Saudi Arabia will spend up to 20 years in prison.
“Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups.”
Dissent continues to be a big concern in the kingdom because, as The Independent notes: “The new laws have largely been brought in to combat the growing number of Saudis travelling to take part in the civil war in Syria, who have previously returned with newfound training and ideas about overthrowing the monarchy.”
President Barack Obama is getting pressure from many sources to raise concerns over human rights violations when he meets with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Friday.
According to Fox News, 52 bipartisan members of Congress and more than a dozen non-governmental organizations sent the president a letter on Tuesday asking him to discuss “serious human rights violations” with Saudi leaders.
“It is time to publicly demonstrate U.S. support for those in Saudi Arabia who are willing to take such risks to advance fundamental rights in their society,” the letter reads.
A more recent letter came from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who wrote to the president asking him to push Saudi leaders to release religious prisoners and “end persecution of individuals charged with apostasy, blasphemy and sorcery.”
The letter also detailed Saudi textbooks that “call for violence against non-Wahhabi religious groups such as Christians, Jews, Hindus, Shi’ites and Sufis.”
“Sustained interventions at the highest-levels of the U.S. government are required to make progress on this issue with our Saudi partners,” Rubio wrote. “I hope you can state such an engagement with the Saudi leadership during your meetings in Riyadh this week.”
The urgency of the matter was also laid out in a brief column on the website for Human Rights Watch. The column also urged the president to raise human rights issues. It said that Obama’s visit “comes as Saudi authorities are clamping down on civil society activists and peaceful dissidents, and have arrested and deported at least 250,000 foreign workers since November, according to the Interior Ministry.”
The main issue for those concerned with human rights in Saudi Arabia is the country’s new antiterrorism laws. Many believe that those laws can be broadly applied to anyone who challenges or speaks out against the Saudi government.
Sarah Leah Whitson, of Human Rights Watch, said the president “should make clear that Saudi authorities shouldn’t be using the new, broadly worded terrorism law to restrict further the already-restricted space for free expression.”
It is unclear, though, whether Obama will push the issue with King Abdullah.
A story in the Guardian reports that the purpose of the visit is to smooth relations with Saudi allies. The allegiance between the two countries has cooled over differences in opinion on how to deal with unrest in Syria and Libya. Uprisings in those and other Arab countries threatened the authoritarian leadership in Saudi Arabia and Saudi leaders believed the United States had disengaged in the conflicts, leaving the Saudi government to fend for itself.
One Saudi official was quoted in the Guardian as saying, ”The U.S. has underwritten the regional security order for the past 70 years and it sees now as a good time to disengage?"
"We will have to do it all ourselves,” he added.
According to the Guardian, the president’s main message in Saudi Arabia on Friday will be that he has not abandoned them. Delivering that message may not be the most opportune time to raise human rights concerns.
A Saudi woman was reportedly denied ambulance service because she didn’t have a man present at her house.
The woman, Salma Al-Shuhab, called for an ambulance recently after she woke up with a severe headache. After being asked a few questions by the operator, Al-Shuhab was told an ambulance could not be sent to her home. When she asked why, the operator told her there needed to be a man present at her home for an ambulance crew to be sent.
“I couldn’t just go out onto the street looking for a taxi at 4 a.m., so I called the ambulance because I couldn’t bear the pain until dawn,” she said. “The employee asked me routine questions, including my age, my address and other details. It was only when he learned that I live alone that he said he could not send me an ambulance. He then left the phone for a few minutes and came back to tell me the same thing.
“I asked him if I should be left to die,” Al-Shuhab continued. “I had to look through my phonebook for 15 minutes until I found the number of a driver. Is this humane?”
She eventually made it to the hospital through her own efforts. When asked about the incident, Saudi Red Crescent spokesman Ahmad Al-Enzi said the country’s ambulance service “provides help regardless of race or gender around the clock.”
“We will launch an extensive investigation into this complaint,” he said.
This story may remind readers of Amna Bawazeer, the King Saudi University student who died of a heart attack after ambulance crews were temporarily denied access to her school’s all female campus.
A 100-year-old beggar in Saudi Arabia died after 50 years of panhandling, and while her neighbors and friends were saddened by her passing, they were also a little shocked to discover that she had built up a fortune over the years
Ayesha, the now deceased beggar, is said to have amassed 3 million Saudi Riyals (around $800,000), four buildings in Al-Balad, and 1 million Saudi Riyals (close to $270,000) worth of jewelry. Very few people knew of the infamous beggar’s fortune, and when she died, her will was turned over to a friend.
Ayesha’s friend Ahmad Saidi says that the woman’s will expressed her wishes to have all of her money and property given to the needy. Saidi says that he attempted to inform the authorities so that they could distribute the money, but after getting the runaround, he took matters into his own hands.
“I am tired of this role,” said Saidi. “I gave statements to the police and the court and received a promise that the authorities would do what was needed.”
When the promise wasn’t kept, Saidi says he emptied all of the money, gold, and jewelry onto the streets of Al-Balad and let the residents there discover it.
In Ayesha’s will, there’s reportedly a specific request that after she’s gone, the government take over the four buildings she owns and kick out those who live there. Currently, the government has yet to take over the buildings, and some of the residents are protesting being kicked out.
“They are all poor people,” said one neighbor. “[Saidi] is insisting that the properties be handed over to the authorities but where will these poor people go?”
Ayesha apparently grew up with a sister and a mother who begged for money, and many of her assets came from them.
Separate courts in Saudi Arabia this week sentenced two men to time in prison for posting messages on Twitter, reports CNN. Both men remain unnamed.
On Sunday, one of the men was sentenced to eight years in jail for insulting Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and inciting protests via Twitter and other social media sites.
Another man, who was already serving three years in prison, was convicted on similar charges and sentenced to an additional 10 years, according to Reuters, who quoted a release from Saudi news agency SPA.
“[He was] convicted of entering an Internet site hostile to the state that encourages fighting and promotes deviant thought,” Saudi justice ministry spokesman Fahd Al-Bakran said. "The accused had sent invitations via Twitter to participate in protests and gatherings against the Kingdom.”
The convictions and stiff penalties raise ongoing concerns over violations of human rights in the country.
Both sentences come close on the heels of new, harsh anti-terror laws, as well as the recent declaration by Saudi Arabia of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Many fear that such a declaration coupled with the country’s new laws could be abused and will lead to efforts by the Saudi government to quash all forms of dissent. The two recent convictions and the subsequent statement from the justice ministry reinforce those fears.
Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a statement in February that the new laws create “a veneer of legality for ongoing human rights abuses by Saudi criminal justice authorities.”
"The terrorism law," he wrote, "is a vague, catch-all document that can — and probably will — be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way."
Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy and research with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, agrees.
"It reinforces longstanding concerns that the Saudis will spare no expense to crush dissent and punish non-conforming views, even if the views are protected by internationally-recognized human rights," Bashir told CNN.
WWII veteran Shannon Trembly, 87, was recently flying “touch and go” drills with his Cessna plane when skydiver John Frost was landing nearby in a parachute.
The plane's propeller cut through the parachute strings in dramatic pictures taken by photographer Tim Telford in Mulberry, Fla., reports 13 WHAM (video below).
After he lost his parachute, Frost was tossed to the ground, but escaped serious injuries, notes ABC News.
The plane crashed into the ground nose-first, but Trembly was not seriously injured.
In another bizarre-but-true moment, an unidentified man chased and jumped onto a truck that had driven past a police check point in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, reports Business Insider (video below).
The man eventually got into the truck's cabin and pulled the vehicle to a stop last Friday.
A Saudi cleric has proposed this solution to molestation of young girls: they should be required to wear burqas.
While no law or practice in Islam requires that baby girls wear burqas, Sheik Abdulla Daoud suggested that covering the babies in burqas would keep them from being raped. Daoud made the controversial comment on TV last year, stating that babies were being molested in Saudi Arabia.
The video recently surfaced on social media, and elicited shocked and indignant response from fellow Saudis.
“Now the baby victims are blamed for men’s crimes. Allah help us stop the ignorance, stupidity,” tweeted Masleeza Othman.
Othman later followed up the original tweet with another condemning those who “abuse, molested and sexually assaulted or harassed the babies, children.”
“They aren’t supposed to even live!!” Othman continued.
Senior Islamic officers have also been highly critical of Daoud’s comments, noting that they “made Islam and Sharia law look bad.”
Daoud’s comment comes as a contrast to online activists’ recent calls for the Saudi kingdom’s rulers to impose harsher punishments on child abusers. Most notably, Fayhan al-Ghamdi, a prominent preacher, received a light sentencing after confessing to raping and beating his 5-year-old daughter to death.
Startlingly, al-Ghamdi is protected by Saudi Arabia’s Islamic law, under which a father cannot be executed for murdering his children or his wife.
Reports indicate that Saudi Arabia plans to launch a 24-hour hotline, specifically for reporting violence against children.
Photo Source: www.biyokulule.com
It might sound like science fiction, but it’s reality: in Saudi Arabia, an electronic system automatically informs male guardians about the arrival and departure status of their female dependents.
The system, enforced by the Passports Department, sends an SMS to the male guardian whenever a female member of his family crosses the country’s border.
Currently, use of the system has been suspended, and the program will undergo amendment.
“In the past, the system included all the names that were registered,” said Lt. Col. Ahmad Al-Laheedan, spokesperson of the Passports Department. “However, in the next phase, it will be optional.”
Multiple sources have spoken out positively about changes being made to the system; many propopse banishing it altogether.
Arguing that the notification process never should have been introduced at all, Saudi columnist and assistant professor Sabria S. Jawhar called the system “humiliating for women.”
“I hope this is a step toward canceling the whole system,” she continued. “We are born Muslim and we know the principles of our religion. There is no need for anyone, including the government, to monitor our behavior.”
The system has also been accused to belittlingly monitoring women in a way more befitting the monitoring of a child.
Maha Akeel, managing editor of the OIC Journal has referred to the system, with its implications that women cannot be trusted, as an insult to women.
Others, however, approved of the system as a means for families to keep track of across-the-border movements of their children and female relatives. The system has also been praised as a major step towards eliminating bureaucratic paperwork that previously required that guardians sign permission forms.
Sources: Arabnews.com, Rt.com
Photo Sources: Clickrally.com
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to three months in prison and 80 lashes for taking to Twitter to publicly accuse a Kuwaiti singer of adultery.
The Saudi man is reportedly a fan of a rival UAE singer named Ahlam, so in an effort to start rumors about singer Shams, he went on Twitter and accused the entertainer of committing adultery without providing any proof.
Shams filed a lawsuit against the Twitter user for making up the accusations, as well as posting fake pictures of her in compromising situations. Shams won the lawsuit, and now, the Twitter user, who claims he is “the lawyer of Queen Ahlam,” will face the consequences.
Under Sharia Law, anybody who accuses another person of committing adultery without proof will face lashes. Now that the Twitter user has been found guilty, he has been sentenced to 80 public lashes, three months in jail, and a fine of nearly $3,000.
A Saudi Arabia prince could face execution after the victim’s father rejected his plea for pardon, a newspaper reported Sunday.
According to Reuters, the English-language Arab News did not disclose the name of the prince or his victim, but said Crown Prince Salman, a senior member of the family and government, had “cleared the way for the possible execution of a prince convicted of murdering a Saudi citizen.”
“Shariah [law] shall be applied to all without exception,” he wrote in a message to Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Naif, Arab News reported.
“There is no difference between big and small, rich and poor. The powerful are weak before God’s law until others get their rights from them while the weak are powerful until their rights are protected.
"Nobody is allowed to interfere with the judiciary’s decision. This is the tradition of this state. We are committed to following the Shariah.”
King Abdullah reportedly decreed the prince stating that execution would be enforced if the prince and the victim’s family failed to reconcile.
The victim’s father said in a statement that he was not ready to pardon the prince and claimed the reconciliation committee was not fair to him.
UPI reported that the father was not happy with the amount of blood money offered by the committee.
Executions are common in the kingdom, which follows a strict version of sharia.
With beheading as the most common method, there have been 72 official executions in Saudi Arabia so far this year. The kingdom had executed at least 47 people as of May 2013, according to Amnesty International, compared to 82 in all of 2011 and a similar number in 2012.