Ministry of Justice takes offence

The ministry of justice was provoked this week by an outspoken piece by Dr. Badriya Al Bishr to issue a statement to the same newspaper where Al Bishr’s piece was published. Al Bishr criticized the white washing of the Saudi justice system that took place at the International Association of Lawyers 55th Congress in Miami. There, the minister of Justice, prof. Mohammed Al Eissa gave a talk on the justice system in Saudi Arabia. According to local papers his talk mostly constituted a presentation on how wonderful and just the Saudi justice system. The papers reported that among other things he stated that the Saudi justice system does not discriminate between men and women when it comes to rights and obligations. The audacity of making such a statement at an international conference by no less than the minister of justice himself seriously makes me wonder if this whole thing is all my head. Did I imagine that a few weeks ago a Saudi woman was sentenced to ten lashes for driving her own car and that only a pardon from the king spared her the punishment? Is Najla Hariri’s upcoming trial for driving her car a figment of my imagination? How about that the ministry of justice refuses to issue licenses to women to practice law and won’t even recognize the title of lawyer for women who have obtained licenses abroad, did that change overnight?

AlBishr is apparently having the same delusions as I am, since she pointed out how sexist the ministry is when it comes to sentencing in homicide cases. If women are charged with murdering their spouse, it’s an automatic death sentence while men who murder their wives are dealt with much more leniently. AlBishr cites the recent case of a man who ran over his wife because she would not give him her salary. The murder was committed in daylight, in front of the woman’s family home and in front of several witnesses and yet the man was only sentenced to 12 years in prison. Another case that I recall is one where a man decapitated his wife in front of their toddler and was originally sentenced to only five years in prison then revised to 15.

AlBishr also notes the irony in that the minister’s talk coincided with news that a teacher at an elementary school has reached out to activists concerning the weddings of two of her students during Hajj break. The third and fourth grade girls were scheduled to be married off to adult men at the same time that the minister was giving his talk in Miami. To say that there is no gender discrimination in the Saudi justice system is an outright denial of the truth. However the ministry in issuing its statement today has shown that it is persistent in this denial even at the national level.

In the statement, the head of the ministry’s press office, Ibrahim AlTayyer, mostly took offence with the part of AlBishr’s column that raised the issue of child marriages. He states that according to ministry studies the number of child marriages are not high enough to consider it a phenomenon in Saudi. Though he did not mention what number would be enough for the ministry to act nor more importantly disclose the number of child marriages that was documented in those studies. To me one child marriage is enough to issue a law however it is obviously much more than that. According to an interview with AlRiyadh Newspaper on Jan/22/2010, a sociologist, Dr. Al Johara Mohammed, states that “among us there are more than 3000 Saudi girls aged no more than 13 years married to men in the age of their parents or grandparents”. Are 3000 cases of pedophilia not a signficant enough number for our ministry? How about that an anonymous source within the ministry itself informed AlWatan Newspaper on Oct/15/2010 that in the Eastern region alone, during the previous year, 40 cases of child marriages were stopped via verbal unofficial instructions. The number of child marriages that were approved however was not mentioned in that article, only an interview with a girl who was a victim of child marriages.

AlTayyer went on to state that regardless of the ministry’s position on child marriages, it is not within its governmental jurisdiction to issue a law consigning a minimum age for marriage. If it’s not the ministry of justice’s jurisdiction, than whose is it? The Shura council when they were discussing the implementation of a child protection system, refused to officially recognize child marriages as a form of child abuse. Their reasoning was a bla bla bla argument on the semantics of child and minor.

The remarkable thing is that there is a widespread consensus among Saudis that child marriages should be banned. Members of the royal family, religious scholars, high ranking government officials and celebrities have all spoken out against it. Yet you can tell from AlTayyer’s statement that simply issuing a law that sets a minimum age for marriage is not going to happen in the forseeable future.

Maybe this is due to the hold that fundamentalists have on the Saudi government. A member of the highest religious council, sheikh AlFowzan, wrote in Okaz newspaper last July that child marriages should not be banned and warns that if we do ban them God will punish us by inflicting us with wars and plagues. A sentiment echoed yesterday by a Saudi woman columnist, Fatima Al Faqih. Besides the usual disputed argument that the Prophet (PBUH) married one of his wives when she was only six and consummated it when she was nine, she reasons that since girls for centuries were able to physically survive child marriages then the scientific argument against child marriages is de facto disproven.

Regarding those who claim that we should not abolish child marriages because the prophet (pbuh) consummated his marriage with Aisha when she was nine, this has been repeatedly proven inconsistent with historian records. This is discussed here in Arabic and you can read more about it in English. Besides the historical inconsistency, it’s also inconsistent with the prophet’s behavior since all his other wives were not only adult women but also divorcees and widows. And if we were to go with the fundamentalist argument that we should not ban anything that isn’t banned by the Qur’an than slavery should be legalized and sexual intercourse between a master and his female slaves as well. Both should be considered completely legal if we were to solely go upon the text of the Qur’an. Yet the government has abolished slavery and intercourse is only legal within the confines of marriage. So why can’t we abolish child marriages in the same way?

On a final note, in the local papers on the minister’s talk at the Miami conference, it is reported that the President of the International Association of Lawyers, Pascal Maurer, was impressed by the Saudi judicial system and hoped that the law system would be made accessible to the international community so that they could benefit.

I could not find any report of Prof. AlEissa’s talk in American or international press.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Ministry of Justice takes offence

  1. Well stated and articulated. Keep up the good work and writing!

  2. I’m not surprised that you couldn’t find any mention of this in the American press, but I want to assure you that it was not yet another ‘western conspiracy’. It simply wasn’t ‘newsworthy’. I spent many years in KSA, and I have to tell you that, to this day, the average person in North America thinks that most if not all Saudi Arabs are incredibly wealthy; that they probably spend a good deal of their time in elaborate tents; and that most if not all men have harems. Details like the justice system are unknown.

    Of course, utter drivel is apparent to experts in their field, and I can assure you that the other panelists during prof. Mohammed Al Eissa’s presentation were wondering what cave he could possibly have crawled out of. Professional courtesy prevented them from expressing their opinion in public. The result (and I’ve witnessed this more times than I can remember): the professor left the lawyer’s congress thinking that he did a good job, and happy with the respect and friendliness with which he was received, and probably willing to think the best of the western lawyers–in the sense that they were good people, if badly misinformed and following a path of error.

    Whereas in fact the western lawyers considered the professor, from a legal and human rights standpoint, a creature from another, and very dark, planet.

    I congratulate Dr. Badriya Al Bishr, and wish I could read his article in English.

  3. Aalmana

    Thank you Eiman for your response To the minister of justice who I definitely think he must be dreaming of what the law should be in KSA and they misunderstood him. Otherwise how can we accept that The Minister of justice is the biggest liar

  4. Tamador

    Why am I not surprised! The Kingdom of Saudi Denial!

  5. Abdualrahman

    “the President of the International Association of Lawyers, Pascal Maurer, was impressed by the Saudi judicial system and hoped that the law system would be made accessible to the international community so that they could benefit.”!!! OMG 0_0

    • Pascal Maurer is either misinformed, uninformed or lives in some hermetically-sealed cave from which he emerged long enough to hear the Minister’s remarks, swallowing them hook, line and sinker, obviously unaware that Saudi Justice is an oxymoron.

  6. Jerry M

    “it is not within its governmental jurisdiction to issue a law consigning a minimum age for marriage. If it’s not the ministry of justice’s jurisdiction, than whose is it?”

    Your comment shows what is a major problem in Saudi Arabia, an unclear legal system. In most countries ‘justice’ departments deal with the administration and prosecution of laws not in their creation. Of course Saudi Arabia is not most countries.

  7. bigstick

    Last comment for now. I am amazed that you aren’t here to guide me but yet you seem to with so many others. Maybe you should expand you parameters of your deen. It could be you are following the wrong path and if so then by your own admission you are bound to hell. Just a thought, ya know, you could be wrong. Hell hath no fury like a scorned Allah.

  8. bigstick

    The comment above was meant for another blog. Please disregard it on this topic.

  9. Glenn Jackson

    Legal systems are developed off of the discoveries and applications of past legal systems. In the US, our basic documents were pulled from previous documents and ideas from other countries over centuries of time. In addition, our legal system is based on the fundamental principle that the rule of law is supreme, not the desire or the person. Our system is part of the form of government we created and placed independently but equally with the other pillars of government. It seems to me that the legal system of KSA is based on the rule of the person, whether it be king or prince or religious leader; but not the rule of law. In this case everyone is not deemed equal. It seems odd then that the minister would say the system does not discriminate between men and women, because the system is an interpretation of law, not the rule of law people must be held up against.

  10. maryy

    Off topic but – I read in some online newspapers today that SA is passing a law to stop ladies showing their eyes as it is too tempting to men. Is this true – I would like to hear it from a ‘reliable’ source?

  11. maryy

    Thank you Eman. I really enjoy your blog, having lived in the Aramco compound many years ago, I have always been curious how life is for the women of KSA. Keep posting!

  12. Civility doesn’t excuse the behavior of the copanelists. Remember silence is passive acquiescence.

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