Friday, July 1, 2011

Dictator Of The Month

Dictator of the Month: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
This is an excerpt from a lengthier article which can be found here

JUSTICE SAUDI STYLE—According to Amnesty International, police in Saudi Arabia routinely use torture to extract “confessions.” The accused are held in incommunicado detention until after they have been interrogated and often until after they have confessed. Even then, they are not allowed to discuss their case with visitors. If, in court, a defendant renounces his confession, he is returned to prison for more sessions of “interrogation.” A noteworthy case from 2004 illustrates Saudi practices. The authorities arrested twelve nonviolent dissidents for holding a public gathering in favor of establishing a constitutional monarchy. All twelve confessed, but in court three of them, university professors Abdullah al-Hamid and Matrouok al-Falih and poet Ali al-Damaini, renounced their confessions. One of their lawyers was imprisoned without charge after he spoke about the case on television. At the beginning, the trial was public, but then the doors were shut and it was held in secret. The defendants were sentenced to six to nine years in prison.
FLOGGING AND OTHER PUNISHMENTS—The Saudi authorities have something of an obsession with flogging, which is imposed for a variety of transgressions, including alcohol-related offences and traffic violations. The record for the most lashes imposed on a prisoner is 4,750, for having sex with his wife’s sister. Although it is not known if he survived, his wife’s sister got sixty-five lashes as well, even though she was the one who reported the incident. Teenage boys are publicly flogged for talking to a young woman or whistling at one. There have been incidents of floggings being announced through public address systems at shopping malls to give shoppers a chance to watch. In March 2001, a military officer was given twenty lashes for using a mobile phone during a flight. Flogging victims can be suspended with chains and lashed with a flexible metal cable.
As awful as flogging is, it is mild in comparison to Saudi punishments for more serious crimes. A convicted thief can have his right hand cut off, while highway robbers are punished by cross-amputation, the loping off of their right hand and their left foot. Then there is Qisas (retaliation) punishment which means an eye for an eye—literally. In 2000, for example, an Egyptian national was convicted in Medina of throwing acid in the face of another Egyptian and damaging his left eye. The guilty party, Abdel Moti Abdel Rahman Mohammad, was sentenced to forcible removal of his left eye.
WOMEN: NOT SEEN, NOT HEARD—In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot appear in public with a man who is not a relative, cannot travel without a male relative’s
permission, cannot drive and cannot work with men. In court, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man and, whereas a man can divorce his wife by just saying so, it is almost impossible for a woman to divorce her husband. Women are required to completely cover their bodies in public and they must wear veils. Ibn Baz, a famous Grand Mufti, forbid women to wear high heels. “The wearing of high heels,” he decreed, “is impermissible because it may lead the woman to fall…and it shows the stature of the woman and her behind more prominently.” Some Saudi women have expressed satisfaction with the restrictions in their country. However, from the point of view of human rights, the problem is that those Saudi women who would like to live a freer life have no choice. The strict suppression of women is not voluntary, but obligatory.
Domestic violence against women is deeply rooted in tradition. Ibn Saud, a national hero, was notorious for his physical abuse of slaves, servants, concubines, and wives. The issue finally surfaced publicly in April 2004 when a well-known television presenter, April Rania al-Baz, was beaten by her husband because she answered the telephone. He dumped her unconscious at a hospital, where she was discovered to have thirteen facial fractures. Because she was famous, her husband was imprisoned and she was able to obtain a divorce and retain custody of her two sons. Unfortunately, her case is the exception, and most beaten wives have no choice but to suffer abuse.
The Mutawa’een religious police are on constant patrol, watching for transgressions of the rules of sexual segregation. One particularly shocking case occurred in Mecca on March 11, 2002. A fire broke out in a girls’ school. As the girls rushed out the building, the Mutawa’een forced them back inside because they were not wearing headscarves and because they were not accompanied by male relatives. When male bystanders tried to enter the school to save the girls, the Mutawa’een stopped them because they were not relatives. In the end, fifteen girls died because of the intervention of the religious police.
FOREIGN WORKERS—The Saudi royal family has, for decades, imported foreigners to do unpleasant jobs. Yemenis serve as servants and street sweepers; Thai women as nannies; Filipino men as waiters; Korean men as construction workers; and Somalis, Ethiopians, Indians, and Sri Lankans as servants and manual laborers. These foreigners, particularly those women who work inside private homes, are subject to physical abuse and sexual violence. Eighty percent of prison inmates in Saudi Arabia are non-Saudis and about half of those prisoners who are executed are foreign nationals.
BASIC FREEDOMS—It almost goes without saying that in Saudi Arabia freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion are nonexistent. All Saudi citizens are required by law to be Muslims. In 2004, Brian O’Connor, a Christian citizen of India, was beaten and deported for owning a Bible and other Christian literature. It is illegal for schools to teach Western philosophy or religion other than Islam, and classrooms are monitored by informers.
The Ministry of Information, created in 1982, has the right to license, restrict, and close all newspapers. The Supreme Information Council, created in 1981, monitors books, magazines, movies, and other media. All radio and television stations are owned by the government, and censorship is so extreme that statistics on automobile accidents are kept out of the media because they might be construed as a criticism of the king or the government. Even sermons in mosques are pre-censored. The Saudi royal family would not allow the Internet into the country until 1999, and all web sites are banned until they have been individually approved. All phone calls are recorded and in 2004 the government banned mobile phones with cameras. In September 2004, they passed a law prohibiting public employees from “engaging in dialogue with local and foreign media.”
The highlight of Saudi Arabia’s struggle with the issue of human rights took place in October 2003 when the government actually hosted an international human rights conference. Hundreds of Saudis took advantage of this unusual occurrence to stage a public protest. They were all arrested. About eighty of the protestors were held for several months and others were flogged.
Ibn Saud kept control of the people he conquered through a combination of force of arms, intermarriage with more than thirty tribes, and the imposition of Wahhabism, which transcended and disempowered tribal hierarchies. He and his successors viewed nepotism and corruption as natural methods of wealth distribution. Later, the Saudi royal family used their oil profits to buy the loyalty of the population by providing free education and health care and subsidized services. When the world demand for oil has stagnated and Saudi profits have dropped, dissent has grown. But with the demand for oil growing, particularly in China, the Saudi royal family has regained the power and influence that their wealth can buy.
-David Wallechinsky

No comments: