Tag Archive | "torture"

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Sword of Justice? Beheadings Rise in Saudi Arabia

Posted on 05 May 2011 by hashimilion

On November 25, 2007, a Saudi man was beheaded by sword for committing homicide. His execution brought the country’s official number of beheadings to 151. This number was a new record, standing in stark contrast to the 2006 total of 38 and far exceeding the previous record of 113 beheadings in 2000. Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery, and drug trafficking are among the many crimes punishable by beheading in the oil-rich kingdom. Saudis point out that theirs is far from being the only country that maintains capital punishment. Yet, while it would be hypocritical as well as unreasonable to demand the kingdom to eliminate executions altogether, public beheadings are nonetheless cruel and unusual on a global scale. The discussion on this matter has shifted toward one on human rights–namely the right to die with dignity.

One of the primary reasons for the recent increase may lie in the psychological implications of beheadings. Some human rights experts argue that the kingdom’s powerful official clerics fear that they are losing their influence over the Saudi population. In order to achieve the fullest impact on the general populace, beheadings are often performed outside mosques in major cities after prayer services on Friday, the Muslim holy day. Much like the French use of the guillotine in the eighteenth century, a desensitized Saudi citizenry may have grown accustomed to and even expect beheadings. Repeated exposure to public beheadings has decreased their shock value and increased the public’s overall tolerance to them.

Social conditions also render the country particularly vulnerable to abrupt increases in fervor. Justification for capital punishment derives from the country’s conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Shariah, the set of Islamic religious laws. Yet these interpretations are by no means universally accepted in the Muslim world. Many clerics and scholars insist that the Quran makes no mention of the practice whatsoever. Of the roughly 57 Muslim-majority countries worldwide, only in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, and Qatar do national laws permit beheading. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is the only country that actually continues to behead its offenders, although both Iran and Saudi Arabia uphold the tradition of stoning adulterers to death.

Even with religious rationalization, significant ambiguity still surrounds the legal precedent for these execution practices. Although many of those beheaded are tried and convicted first, evidence suggests that many are neither explained their rights nor provided legal counsel. Most notable among this latter group are foreigners, typically migrant workers from South Asia, Africa, and the poorer areas of the Arab world. In November 2007 alone, those beheaded included citizens of Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, and Ghana.

The imminent beheading of a 19 year-old Sri Lankan girl, Rizana Nafeek, received considerable international attention in 2007. Nafeek had left Sri Lanka to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia and was accused of murdering her employer’s infant child. She was tried without an attorney, apparently confessing to strangling the child under duress. Eventually, as the result of the efforts of international advocacy groups’ efforts, Nafeek received a lawyer in May, and the Sri Lankan foreign ministry attempted to intervene on her behalf. As of December 8, 2007, the country’s Appellate Court began hearing her case. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, Saudi police allegedly tortured a confession out of Nafeek, an accusation the Saudi judicial system has been forced to take seriously in light of international attention.

Despite this recent development, few outside Sri Lanka have maintained interest in the woman’s fate, and international attention to the case has waned. This is peculiarly indicative of Saudi beheadings as a whole. Since August 2007, there have been dozens of beheadings reported, but none have drawn any particular international outcry. The level of domestic criticism for beheadings, though not entirely negligible, is hard to assess given the kingdom’s tight control on media censorship. And while external human rights advocacy groups continue to demand an end to the practice, no one is encouraging Saudi Arabia to adopt a more structured, pragmatic approach–e.g., exercising greater discretion in choosing those to execute publicly or, better yet, transitioning toward a system of predominantly private, discreet capital punishment. With no end to beheadings in sight and with Saudi accusations of foreign critics’ moral relativism, promoting moderation is the only chance the international community has at swaying Saudi Arabia diplomatically.

By Jon Weinberg

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Is The Tide Turning Against Arab Freedom?

Posted on 22 April 2011 by hashimilion

Is a counter-revolutionary tide beginning to favour the “strongmen” of the Arab world, whose regimes appeared a couple of months ago to be faltering under the impact of the Arab Awakening?

From Libya to Bahrain and Syria to Yemen, leaders are clinging on to power despite intense pressure from pro-democracy protesters. And the counter-revolution has so far had one undoubted success: the Bahraini monarchy, backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, has brutally but effectively crushed the protesters in the island kingdom. Pro-democracy leaders are in jail or have fled abroad. The majority Shia population is being terrorised by arbitrary arrests, torture, killings, disappearances, sackings, and the destruction of its mosques and religious places.

In three other countries despots under heavy assault have varying chances of survival. A month ago in Yemen it seemed likely that President Ali Abdullah Saleh was on his way out, but he still has not gone and has mobilised his own demonstrators, gunmen and security forces. Nevertheless the army has publicly split and the probability is that he will finally depart.

In Syria protests are continuing across the country despite frequent shootings, but President Bashar al-Assad will take a lot of displacing because of his determination to stay, the strength of his security apparatus and the tight grip on power of the minority Allawi community.

In Libya Muammar Gaddafi teetered on the verge of defeat two months ago when rebels had seized the east of the country and there were demonstrations in Tripoli. Since then he has rallied a core of support and the rebels in Benghazi would collapse if they did not have the backing of Nato airpower. Nevertheless he is likely to go simply because Britain, France and the US are committed to his departure.

All this is very different from what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, where the military and political establishments believed they could get rid of the regime but keep the rest of the state intact. This could not be done in Libya or Syria because the regime and the state are too intertwined.

In Yemen the state is too weak to get rid of the leader, while in Bahrain democracy means a revolutionary transfer of power from the minority Sunni to the majority Shia. The counter-revolution has other advantages. Its leaders are no longer being caught by surprise. Defenders of the status quo no longer think their defeat is inevitable and have recovered their nerve. They can draw on the loyalty and self-interest of state employees and on sectarian allegiances.

The attitude of outside powers to the overthrow of the status quo differs from country to country. The US was in two minds over support for Mr Mubarak, but did not condemn the Saudi armed intervention in Bahrain or the subsequent terrorising of the Bahraini Shia. Washington has a very different attitude to Arab autocracies in North Africa and far more strategically important Gulf oil states allied to the US. Unspoken also as a factor in US thinking is the degree to which revolution or counter-revolution will help or hinder America’s traditional enemy in Iran.

Only in Libya has the struggle between rebellion and the state turned into outright war. The rebels have plenty of support, but they still only control a quarter of the population and they remain militarily weak. Their most important card is Nato air strikes and even these have not enabled the anti-Gaddafi forces to advance beyond Ajdabiya or break the siege of Misrata.

The counter-revolution is showing that it has more going for it than seemed likely two months ago. This only appears surprising because well-established authoritarian regimes went down so swiftly in Tunisia and Egypt. Police states have had time to rally their formidable forces of repression, but even this may not be enough to quell newly politicised populations which believe they can end autocratic rule.

By Patrick Cockburn

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Saudi Woman Cleared of Indonesia Maid Abuse

Posted on 04 April 2011 by hashimilion

A court has acquitted a Saudi who had been jailed for three years after being found guilty of torturing her Indonesian maid, a local newspaper said on Sunday.

“A court in Medina acquitted on Saturday a Saudi woman who was sentenced in January to three years in prison for severely torturing her Indonesian housemaid,” reported Arab News.

In January, Indonesia said it was appealing against the three-year jail term given to the woman for stabbing, beating and burning her maid, and slammed the sentence as being “too light.”

But on Saturday, the judge “said there was no evidence that the 53-year-old woman tortured her maid, Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, while her lawyer said he would seek damages for his client,” said the English-language daily.

During a hearing in January, Mustapa showed the judge her injuries, an Indonesian consular official in Jeddah Diddi Wahyudi told AFP.

“The court suspected the truth of the accusations made by the maid because she refused to take her oath in court,” the Saudi woman’s lawyer, Ahmad Al-Rashid, told Arab News.

Mustapa’s lawyer said he would appeal the verdict as “there was convincing evidence to prove that the maid is telling the truth,” reported the Saudi daily.

The case outraged rights groups and labour activists as another example of the paucity of protection for millions of mostly Asian domestic workers, especially in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

Saudi Arabia’s labour ministry said it was sorry about the case, which it called an isolated incident.

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Saudi Arabia’s Watchful Eye Looms Over Bahrain Unrest

Posted on 28 February 2011 by hashimilion

On Wednesday morning, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa boarded a plane to pay his respects to King Abdullah of neighboring Saudi Arabia, who had returned home after months abroad for medical treatments.

It was a trip that underscored the extent of Saudi Arabia’s sway over the teardrop-shaped island off its eastern shore, as well the prospect that the turbulence still whirling in tiny Bahrain could have outsize repercussions in its giant neighbor.

A day after tens of thousands of protesters turned out in Bahrain’s capital, the king is still under pressure from demonstrators who are demanding that he make democratic concessions or step aside. The Shiite-led protesters in Bahrain are demanding that the Sunni royal family grant them equal rights and an equal voice, and majority-Sunni Saudi Arabia is worried that their campaign might give ideas to its own large Shiite minority.

In a sign of its own concerns, the Saudi government announced Wednesday that it will pump $10.7 billion into a fund that gives interest-free loans to citizens and that government workers will receive a 15 percent wage increase, among other measures. Bahrain also gave cash to households just before protests erupted last week.

“Saudi Arabia fears a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, an assistant professor at American University who studies Islamic movements in the Persian Gulf. “It’s about empowerment of the Shia and what that might mean for Shia in the eastern province” of Saudi Arabia, she said, in addition to fears about Iran’s influence, which she deemed largely unjustified.

“In this current crisis, none of the solutions look good for Saudi Arabia,” Diwan said. “A crackdown in Bahrain would be destabilizing. A reform itself would be destabilizing, unless Saudi Arabia was willing to make some reforms.”

The two countries are taking a cautious stance. Saudi Arabia controls large sectors of Bahrain’s economy, both through outright gifts of oil and through investment in Bahraini banks, businesses and real estate. And its military is just a 16-mile drive away over the King Fahd Causeway, which was built at least in part for precisely that strategic reason, observers say. In a sign of Bahraini fears, rumors constantly swirl on Manama’s streets about Saudi troop movements and an imminent invasion.

“Although we are friends, the [Bahraini] leadership is afraid of the Saudis,” said one Bahraini observer with close ties to government security officials. “The Bahrainis don’t want to do like what happened between Syria and Lebanon. When Syria went into Lebanon, they did not leave.”

Hamad is likely to tell Abdullah that “we still don’t need” Saudi military assistance, said the Bahraini observer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the government. “He will tell them we are coping.”

But Bahrain’s business-friendly, Western orientation – which, unlike in much of the gulf, allows women to walk with bare arms and alcohol to be readily available in restaurants – also serves as an escape valve for Saudis seeking a break from their country’s stricter rules, analysts said. The Bahraini government has also tried in recent years to clamp down on prostitution, another booming trade on the island.

In recent years, an expanded American military presence has provided a counterweight to Saudi influence. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is docked just south of Manama, somewhat easing Bahraini fears of a Saudi invasion, Bahraini observers said.

“Bahrain’s survival really depends on two countries, the United States of America and Saudi Arabia,” said Mansoor al-Jamri, a leading Shiite opposition figure who is editor in chief of the independent Bahraini newspaper al-Wasat.

And in the current situation, Jamri said, the possibility of military intervention is unlikely, given the events of last week, when the army and police fired on protesters, killing seven people.

Anti-government demonstrators continued to camp in Manama’s Pearl Square on Wednesday, their ranks swelled by thousands of people welcoming prisoners whom Hamad had released in a bid to facilitate negotiations.

Among those released were 23 prisoners who had been held since August, accused of plotting to overthrow the king and engaging in terrorist activities. Many of the former detainees alleged that they had been tortured and beaten while in prison.

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