Monday, February 25, 2008

A Courageous Saudi Blogger languishes in Saudi Prison

When the courageous and well known Saudi blogger, Fouad Al-Farhan, was arrested on December 11th, 2007, by Prince Naif’s Ministry of Interior, many Saudis knew it was because he had posted blogs demanding reforms in Saudi Arabia. Another belief is that his arrest was the immediate result of his refusal to retract some of his blog posts criticizing Saudi officials. Although the government denied these allegations, it has become clear that Fouad’s criticism and demands were what led to his unjustified and arbitrary arrest, because no other charges have been brought against him.

The Al-Farhan case is similar to those of other courageous Saudi citizens, who called on and petitioned their government for democratic reforms and political inclusion. Prominent among Saudi reformers who faced the same fate as Al-Farhan are poet and author Al-Doumaini, and doctors Al-Faleh and Al-Hamid. They, too, were rounded and thrown in Saudi penitentiary cells for over a year, and when pardoned by King Abdullah after he inherited the throne in August of 2005, they were forbidden to travel, talk to the media, or find jobs.

Fouad Al Farhan is considered to be the godfather of Saudi blogging. He is widely respected for sharing his views and ideas about certain values that he believes the citizens of Saudi Arabia should be entitled to, like the rest of the world. However, since his arrest, Al Farhan has been subjected to treacherous conditions. Aside from one exception on February 12th, Al-Farhan’s family has been denied visitations and phone calls for the past three months. This is indicative that Al-Farhan is enduring tortuous interrogation, with the hope that he might confess to false allegations that the government has placed against him, such as spying for the CIA and complying with Zionist agencies and terrorist organizations.

This is the method used by Saudi authorities to silence any critique against them and to terrorize anyone who might be aspiring to make the same demands as Al-Farhan, notably to ask for accountability, transparency, rule of law, an independent judicial system, women’s rights, minority rights, privileges for expatriates, and respect for other people’s beliefs. The international community, especially the United States, has moral and practical obligations to demand that Al-Farhan be released, or at least that an open trial be held in a court of non-religious law, with the presence of a defense attorney. The Saudi-Wahhabi ruling elites should not be allowed to transgress international declarations on human rights, especially when they have signed them.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

When a Cup of Coffee sets off Religious Oppression

In this day and age, nowhere in the world do government police snatch an innocent educated businesswoman, interrogate her, confiscate her phone, and throw her in a penitentiary for having a cup of coffee with a business colleague in a crowded public coffee shop. Nowhere except for Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to the 1.3 billion Muslims' holy shrines. Despite its ubiquity in Saudi Arabia, this kind of behavior is not only morally abhorrent and in utter disrespect for basic human rights, but an insult to the same Muslim faith that Saudis and Muslims worldwide depict and defend as a faith of tolerance, civility, equality and justice. The gender apartheid system in Saudi Arabia is institutionalized and severely enforced by a ferocious government-hired and trained religious police ("Matawaein" or "domesticators"), who are authorized to terrorize, humiliate and treat Saudi citizens and residents with sheer contempt. Though they claim to be defending Islam, the Saudi-Wahhabi families merely use religion as a pretext to justify their appalling treatment of women, religious minorities, and non-Muslims. Humiliating women and denying them the right to drive, work, buy property and travel without being accompanied by a male relative, are state policies and daily occurrences. The unlimited power bestowed upon the institutionalized religious extremists is not only a dire threat to the future and prosperity of the Saudi people—stifled and lagging in social and political development—but also to Muslims worldwide, especially women, and to the international community. Pretending that religious extremism can be washed away by simply ignoring it is a colossal mistake for which the world has paid dearly. It will only get worse from here.


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