Saudi human rights lawyer Walid Abu al-Khayr, who defended blogger Raif Badawi, was sentenced yesterday, July 6, to 15 years in prison. He was arrested on April 15, accused of: "inciting public opinion," "disobedience in matters of the sovereign," "lack of respect in dealings with the authorities," "offense of the judicial system," "inciting international organizations against the Saudi kingdom" and, finally, for having founded illegally, or without authorization, his association "Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia." He was also forbidden to travel for fifteen years after his release, and fined 200,000 riyals ($53,000) according to Abdullah al-Shihri of the Associated Press. His wife, Samar Badawi, said that he refused to sign the verdict and would not appeal the case, since "he does not see this court as legitimate," she said.
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (left) and his lawyer Walid Abu al-Khayr.
Earlier this year, on March 3, 2014, Saudi King Abdullah invited everyone, as the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported, to spread the culture of moderation and tolerance in Arab countries. He talked about a "common responsibility" that concerns "governments, political leaders and non-governmental organizations."
Two months later, however, on May 7, Raif Badawi, detained since June 17, 2012 in Briman Prison in Jeddah, was sentenced (sentence no. 34184394) to 1,000 lashes (in violation of international law, which prohibits such punishments), ten years in jail and fine of one million riyals ($270,000).
Such behavior from the Saudi regime comes with the bought consent of the West, which would rather constantly reprimand and punish Israel than address the Arab and Muslim world's floggings, beheadings, stonings and amputations -- not to mention executing homosexuals, gender apartheid and the effective imprisonment, if not frequent slavery, of women, and the often merciless treatment of foreign workers. Such a double standard exposes how many Europeans, who consider themselves moral and speak about "ethical investing," are, in fact, accessories to these Saudi crimes, and therefore themselves guilty of crimes against humanity.
Badawi was condemned, according to Amnesty International, for having co-founded a website, "Saudi Arabian Liberals," and for having written and publishing on it his blog and other writings, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, -- as well as for other "offenses to Islamic precepts."
He criticized and made fun of Saudi institutions such as the Commission for the Promotion of Goodness and the Prohibition of Vice (also known as "the religious police"), the Saudi Grand Mufti, other Saudi ulema [religious scholars].
The long sentence of the Criminal Court of the district of Jeddah stated that he had undermined the "public order."
Originally he had been sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, but after he appealed the sentence and returned to court last month to hear the verdict, two additional penalties were added (points 4 and 5 below) to the previous ones.
Just a few months ago, between October and December in 2013, Rome was plastered with posters that read: "Discovering Saudi Arabia, the land of dialogue and culture." Presumably they were intended to celebrate eighty years of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom Saudi Arabia and Italy.
The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Municipality of Rome and the Embassy of Saudi Arabia launched a series of initiatives to demonstrate how much the country of Saud was friendly, open and attractive. In the Piazza del Popolo, in the heart of Rome, a tent was set up under which one could listen to music, and enjoy tea and traditional sweets.
Even before that, in November 2012, the "King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue" (KAICIID) was founded in Vienna, by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Austria and the Kingdom of Spain, "to enable, empower and encourage dialogue among followers of different religions and cultures around the world."
Anyone who knows the reality of Saudi Arabia even superficially realizes that both the International Center and the verdict against Badawi represent some ultimate level of hypocrisy -- condoned, unfortunately, by the complicit West. Saudi Arabia is country where women cannot drive or even get a license; where Christians can not wear a cross or build a church; where Shiites are discriminated against, and in which the strictest Islamic penal code -- including floggings, beheadings and stonings -- is applied.
Saudi Arabia's latest "friendly, open and attractive" sentence against Raif Badawi consists of:
1. Ten years in prison for creating the Saudi Liberal website and insulting Islam.
2. 1,000 lashes, completed in 20 sessions in front of a mosque, for creating the "Saudi Arabian Liberals" website and insulting Islam.
3. One million riyal fine [$266,000].
4. Ten year ban on travel abroad after his release.
5. Ten year ban from participating in visual, electronic and written media after his release.
What is happening to Badawi and Abu al-Khayr can, ironically, be interpreted as a consequence of the Saudi anti-terror law, approved December 16, 2013.
Article 1 defines "terrorism" as: "Any criminal act, consequence of an individual or collective plan, direct or indirect, which seeks to attempt against the public order of the State, or to threaten the security of the society or the stability of the State, or puts in jeopardy the national unity or suspends the fundamental law of governability and some of its articles, or insults the reputation of the State or its position, or causes damage to one of its public functions [...]."
In other words, terrorism is anything that can imaginably affect the stability of total Saudi power. Terrorism only exists, therefore, if and when an action or expression is directed at the Saudi regime, and may just mean defeating Shiites.
The Saudi kingdom therefore condemns a young blogger and his lawyer as terrorists for "threatening public order."
Badawi's case is more complex than others because the problem does not just involve a few tweets, but is mainly about his having founded the "Liberal Free Saudi Network" in 2006. Badawi has also has repeatedly criticized not only radical Islamic preachers, but also the Saudi regime which has never wanted to stop them.
In an interview published in August 2007 by the liberal website Afaaq, Badawi stated that "liberals in Saudi Arabia live between the anvil of State and the hammer of the religious police." On that occasion, he described himself thusly: "Raif Badawi is nothing more than a Saudi citizen. My commitment is to the advancement of civil society in my country, to reject any repression in the name of religion, to promote liberal enlightened Saudis whose primary objective is being active in civil society, a goal that we will reach in a peaceful and law-abiding way."
Badawi's words are not apostasy, just a call for a deep reform and change in his country.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah announced recently that Saudi Arabia is determined to root out terrorism.
If King Abdullah were consistent with his own words, he would not consent to a Saudi court prosecuting Raif Badawi because "his Facebook page has 'Likes' of a million Arab Christians," as one can read on page 6 of the court's sentence.
It would be enough to read the sentence from page 16 onwards, where the Koran, sayings of Mohammed, books by Islamic theologians and jurists are quoted to justify the death penalty for the "apostate", to understand that the one who preaches violence and opposes fundamental human rights is not Badawi, nor his lawyer Abu-al-Khayr, but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia .
What is happening to this Saudi blogger confirms that when terrorism is condemned and there is the desire to protect human rights, it is necessary first to establish very precise definitions, because it is easy to fall into the trap of false friends.
That Abu al-Khayr and Raif Badawi support "mistaken" human rights is very clear from a statement by Abdullah ibn Salih al-Ubayd, former president of the National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia:
"Safety and security is a natural human requirement which is also approved by the Islamic law that everyone without exception seeks to achieve. It is for this reason that governments and organizations lay down rules and regulations and even change them later with a view to maintaining security. Allah's Law, however, which is perfect and absolute never changes, as the Qur'an states, 'Then is it the judgement of [the time of] ignorance they desire? But who is better than Allah in judgement for a people who are certain [in faith]?' (5:50) [...]
Implementing the law of qisaas [that is, vengeance, "an eye for an eye" form of justice] without doubt protects the individual and society against crime. It makes people aware of other people's rights and provides a solid foundation for maintaining peace and security in society. If every member of society becomes aware that he will definitely be killed if he kills others, he will certainly refrain from ever thinking of committing crimes."
It is clear that Saudi Arabia needs to recognize universal human rights: rights that have neither religion nor gender nor color; that must never be relativized in the name of internal security, and that cannot be subjected to a double standard in moral judgment.
Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar and their three daughters now live in Canada, fearing that they will never be able to embrace him again.
Badawi's case could be the opportunity for Saudi Arabia to take a step forward toward an open and merciful interpretation of Islamic traditions.
The Tunisian Muslim intellectual, Mohammed Charfi, in his essay "Islam and Liberty" (Casbah Editions, Algeria 2000), also addressed the subject of apostasy. He presented Koranic verses in favor of liberty of conscience -- "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (II, 256) -- to demonstrate that "God is not fanatic, whereas the ulema of yesterday, as well as the ulema and fundamentalists of today are."
Charfi points out that Koran does not prescribe that apostasy must be sanctioned with death penalty.
At the same time, Muslim jurists, as confirmed in Badawi's sentence, justify the death penalty for "apostasy" by the saying of Mohammed: "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him." Charfi, however, underscores that this tradition is not reliable as it belongs to the category of sayings transmitted by only one person.
On this matter, and on many other matters, Saudi Arabia finds itself at a crossroads. Either it states clearly that universal human rights do not exist on its territory because they run counter to Islam, or it begins truly to respect them -- beginning with the release of Raif Badawi and Abu al-Khayr.
Saudi Arabia might at least start trying to demonstrate that it is actually attempting to be "the land of dialogue" in any un-laughable sense of the word.