Most of you have probably see the video below of Maajid Nawaz trying to get some of his fellow Muslims admit that some of the punishments in Sharia are inhumane. For whatever reason, they simply won’t say that punishments like stoning to death are wrong. Sometimes, they won’t even admit that those are the sort of punishments that are handed out by a judge who rules via Sharia.
Most of you also probably know about Raif Badawi, who is currently in prison in Saudi Arabia for, basically, expressing an opinion the theocratic rulers of his country don’t agree with. It has made Badawi the face of the international End Blasphemy Laws campaign I wrote about here. Several news outlets and websites, including the Canadian Atheist website, are now reporting that Badawi’s wife has received credible information that attempts to retry her husband for the apostasy charge he has already been found not guilty of are being made. Badawi’s current punishment is 1,000 lashes plus 10 years imprisonment. (The extreme hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia was demonstrated by the Saudi Arabian ambassador to France taking part in the Unity March following the Charlie Hebdo massacre on the same day the first fifty lashes were administered.) If Badawi is found guilty of apostasy, a crime that shouldn’t even exist, he will face death by beheading.
Another case has come to my attention today, although the events surrounding it occurred back in 2006-7. However, it appears there has been no improvement in Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, even those who have suffered the trauma of gang-rape since then so it is still relevant. The law there is unbelievable in it’s unfairness, and if anybody tries to tell me that Sharia really honours and respects women again, this is the only example I’ll ever need to shut them up.
As The Middle East monitor reported in 2006, a 19-year-old woman was been sentenced to six months imprisonment and 200 lashes following being violently gang-raped.
The young woman had driven to meet a male friend as he was to return a photo to her. Two more men got in the car and forced it to be driven to a remote place. There, she was viciously raped by seven men, three of whom also raped her friend. The men received light custodial sentences for kidnapping. The court considered there was not enough proof to convict them of rape despite a cell phone video of the incident. However, as the women was out without her husband (she is married) or a male relative in opposition to the law, she was sentenced to six months imprisonment and 90 lashes. Her male friend was also convicted of what’s known as “illegal mingling” and similarly sentenced to imprisonment and whipping. His rape was also not prosecuted.
The woman described her ordeal to Human Rights Watch:
At the first session, [the judges] said to me, “what kind of relationship did you have with this individual? Why did you leave the house? Do you know these men?” They asked me to describe the situation. They used to yell at me. They were insulting. The judge refused to allow my husband in the room with me. One judge told me I was a liar because I didn’t remember the dates well. They kept saying, “Why did you leave the house? Why didn’t you tell your husband [where you were going]?”
Her lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, a leading Human Rights lawyer, appealed the sentence to the Saudi General Court as being obviously too harsh, especially in light of what the woman had suffered. The response of the court? To more than double the number of lashes to 200. Further, as Al-Lahem had reached out to the media, they banned him from having any part in the woman’s case in future, confiscated his licence, and summoned him to a disciplinary hearing. “The decision to ban the rape victim’s lawyer from the case shows what little respect Saudi authorities have for the legal profession or the law in general,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch describes the situation of the law in Saudi Arabia thus:
There is currently no rule of law in Saudi Arabia, which does not have a written penal code. Judges do not follow procedural rules and issue arbitrary sentences that vary widely. Often, judges do not provide written verdicts, even in death penalty cases. Judges sometimes deny individuals their right to legal representation.
Saudi Arabian Ministry of Justice defended the woman’s sentence to international commentators by re-iterating she was at fault for being out without a male family member.
In another case in February 2009, the Saudi Gazette reported:
A 23-year-old unmarried woman was awarded one-year prison term and 100 lashes for committing adultery and trying to abort the resultant fetus.
The District Court in Jeddah pronounced the verdict on Saturday after the girl confessed that she had a forced sexual intercourse with a man who had offered her a ride. The man, the girl confessed, took her to a rest house, east of Jeddah, where he and four of friends assaulted her all night long.
The girl claimed that she became pregnant soon after and went to King Fahd Hospital for Armed Forces in an attempt to carry out an abortion. She was eight weeks’ pregnant then, the hospital confirmed.
According to the ruling, the woman will be sent to a jail outside Jeddah to spend her time and will be lashed after delivery of her baby who will take the mother’s last name.
The worst story though is the one that was two years old last month. In February 2013, celebrity imam Fayhan al-Ghamdi was arrested for the rape, torture and murder of his five-year-old daughter Lama. The Independent reports Lama “… suffered multiple injuries including a crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken left arm and extensive bruising and burns. Social workers say she had also been repeatedly raped and burnt.”
Lama’s mother took her still alive daughter to the hospital. She told Saudi Arabia’s Albawaba News that the hospital said Lama’s rectum was torn wide open and someone had tried to burn it closed. Lama took ten months to die.
During the trial Fayhan al-Ghamdi apparently repeatedly confessed to using cables and a cane to inflict the injuries. He suspected she had lost her virginity and this was his response.
And it gets worse. You won’t believe this. Here goes.
Initially sentenced to eight years and 800 lashes, after serving a few months in prison, the judge ruled that Fayhan al-Ghamdi had been in prison long enough and the prosecution could seek “blood money” in compensation. He paid Lama’s mother £31,000 ($US 46,600, $NZ 63,300) and was released from prison. (Other sources say 1 million rials/$US 270,000.) Such payments are allowable under Sharia. The payment for a female child, however, is only half of that payable for a male child.
The Saudi king Abdullah intervened at this point and al-Ghamdi was later returned to prison. He tried to modernize his country during his lifetime in opposition to the Salafi clerics who give Saudi justice such a bad name, and the new king is thought to be of a similar mindset. So, to date, al-Ghamdi remains in prison and looks set to serve his full sentence. Which, of course, is only eight years.
However, the royal family still has a long way to go to improve the Saudi justice system, especially as it applies to women, LGBT people, and those who seek freedom of speech. They’ve managed to secure women the vote, which they will be allowed to exercise for the first time later this year. Let’s hope they can have more success in reforming their justice system too. Women voting may see more candidates sympathetic to women’s issues being elected too, so we may see some improvement in the next few years. Here’s hoping.
Update: An open letter was sent to the UK Prime Minister on 9 March to free Raif Badawi, his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Kahir and other human rights activists who are also in prison in Saudi Arabia. On 20 February 2015, Walwwd Abu Al-Kahir’s sentence was confirmed as 15 years imprisonment. Anyone from anywhere in the world can still add their name to the letter here. I have. I hope you will consider doing so too.