I was pretty busy this past two months. But no matter how busy I get I cannot pass up a PVPV commission headline and these two months were full of those. First let me update you on the guy, AttaAllah Al Rasheedi, who was stabbed twice by a PVPV member for not ordering his wife to cover her eyes. Seventeen days after he was admitted to the hospital he was taken into custody and imprisoned for 28 days. Outrageous I know but not unexpected especially coming from the same people who wanted to imprison and whip a rape victim. It turns out that the unnamed PVPV member, 20 days after the incident obtained a medical report that states that his nose was broken and thus the case has now changed from assault to altercation, conveniently removing Al Rasheedi from his previous victim stance. And so now the judge after releasing him gave him the parting gift of a sentence of 30 lashes across the back for “strolling amid women” regardless of the fact that it was not a gender segregated mall and that he was accompanying his wife. Al Rasheedi is a soldier in the National Guard and obviously his training has had an influence on his spirit because the guy just won’t back down. Now he is appealing the 30 lashes ruling and he plans to take to court the sheikhs who spoke badly about his character in their Friday sermons. He also plans to object to his 28 day imprisonment.
On the other hand, the likelihood of his success is not promising. The Qatif girl could not get anything from our courts and her only salvation was a royal pardon from the King himself. No PVPV member was charged for the 2007 murder of Sulaiman Al Huraisy, a 28 year old man accused by the PVPV of making and selling alcohol. He was taken to one of their centers for questioning and then beaten. According to the postmortem he lost his right eye, he had a 6 cm break in his skull and he had no traces of alcohol in his system. His family tried to appeal the case too.
Even PVPV members aren’t immune once they step out of the ultra-conservative mold. Shiekh Dr. Ahmed Al Ghamdi, the head of the Makkah PVPV division is hated by the ultra conservative community because he says that women can uncover their faces and there is no gender segregation in Islam. They tried to get him removed but couldn’t. So instead they decided to marginalize him by not inviting him to their meetings, and showing his sons no mercy. One of his sons was involved in what was originally reported as defending his house when a group of men tried to break in to “mingle” with Al Ghamdi’s wife and daughters. However the whole incident magically changed into an altercation about car parking and Al Gamdi’s son was sentenced with 50 lashes. It’s also been going around that the same son or another was fired from his position in the PVPV. Then the Al Ghamdi tribe issued a statement that they are innocent of Dr. Al Ghamdi and his unGodly opinions.
Finally last week, it was reported that a barefoot young woman was seen running across a major street in Riyadh while being chased by two PVPV cruisers. According to the PVPV they had spotted her in a taxi flirting and exposing herself. Note that “exposing herself” does not necessarily mean nudity according to their standards because to them even regular clothes without an abaya is exposure. They did not elaborate on what it was that she was doing or what she exposed except that it was immoral. Eye witnesses say that she was running crying and begging people in their cars to help her. Eventually the PVPV caught her and took her to a holding center for women and girls until her family picked her up from there a few hours later.
And if you would like to read a first hand account of a PVPV incident, I highly recommend this post from fellow blogger Omaima Al Najjar.
For all their trouble the PVPV were rewarded with a whole fleet of new cruisers, six hundred in Riyadh alone. And these cruisers are all linked to a control center and are all outfitted with what looks like a scanner/printer/fax machine. Don’t ask me what a patrol car would need those for! They are very proud of their high tech new look and equipment and posted these photos on their website at this link:
The Commision for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, (PVPV), has done it again. On Thursday in Ha’il, a region North West of Riyadh, a PVPV member was scouting this very conservative area for vice to prevent. He saw a woman shopping with a man and felt that her eyes (the only part of her that was showing) were too seductive and starting shouting orders at her to cover her eyes. According to her husband, he says that he heard this muttawa behind him shouting and paid him no mind until he realized that the PVPV member was addressing his wife. He turned around and told him to mind his own business. Then insults were exchanged until the PVPV member pulled out a knife and slashed the husband’s arm and stabbed him in the back, puncturing his lungs. So far, so terrible but we could at least say that this PVPV member would be rejected and held at arms length by the commission. First day the report came out, the spokesperson, sheikh Mutlaq Al Nabit claimed that they still don’t have the details of what happened except that there was an attack on the PVPV and that was followed by an altercation and the PVPV member has not admitted that he had stabbed the citizen. The next day another report came out from the same spokesperson, Shiekh Al Nabit claiming that PVPV members have every right to order women to cover their eyes if they are seductive, seditious and could push a man to sin. He also denied that the commission gave permission to the PVPV member to get into a fight and carry a weapon and claimed that all PVPV members are responsible and deserving of trust.
Huda Al Hamd, an anchor on Saudi’s channel has been suspended from work. On her morning show this Saturday she took up the unemployment problem in Saudi Arabia. She had on the show two extremely outspoken writers, Saad Al Dosari and Dr. Hasan Al Ajmi. Mr. Al Dosari made many statements such as that it is an outrage that 12000 Saudis apply when only 45 positions are announced. He also said that there are people or a mafia benefitting from how things are run. He even likened the current foreign labour system to human trafficking. He demanded that ministers do something about it, that they go to the King and show him how desperate the situation is by tearing their thobes (cultural gesture of desperation). Then Dr. Al Ajmi weighed in by stating that ministers only drive around in fancy cars, enjoy the centralized air conditioning and smell the most expensive Cambodian incense. He declared the ministries of Labour and Civil Service complete failures and the Ministries of Education and Financial Affairs disappointments. He said that it’s not employers who mistrust Saudis, its Saudis who mistrust employers. He urged ministers to inform the King truthfully of the situation and assured them that the King will support them.
According to Sabq, Saturday night and until the early hours of Sunday, meetings and calls from decision-makers were going on at the Ministry of Information and Culture. Sunday it was announced that the Ministry’s spokesperson Mr. Haza’a would manage the channel for the next six months; he’s the same person who caused an uproar after he suggested that Saudi bloggers register and get licenses to blog. Also Ms. Al Hamd’s suspension was followed with the suspension of her colleagues Samira Madani and Mohammed Al Radaini.
I have written on unemployment before. The situation is desperate. It’s bad for men and much worse for women. You can read my last post on it here.
I recommend you watch the video even if you don’t speak Arabic, the passion and anger of the guests goes across languages. This controversy resulted in a hashtag on Twitter #hoda2alhamed in support of Huda Al Hamd
Some of the tweets include:
With my rejection of the suspension and what happened, nothing will ruin the country more than Al Ajmi and Al Dosari when they say demeaning jobs and jobs that are beneath Saudis, that’s bull.
مع رفضي للإيقافات وماحصل، لكن ماراح يدمر البلد إلا عقليات العجمي والدوسري، ايش مهن حقيرة، ووظائف لا تليق بولد البلد، كلام فارغ #hoda2alhamed
Calling these people human traffickers is an insult to human traffickers.
وصف هؤلاء الأشخاص بتجار الرقيق هو أهانة لتجار الرقيق #hoda2alhamed
The Ministry of Information’s message is clear, anybody in the media who takes up unemployment transparently and boldly will soon join the unemployed.
رسالة وزارة الاعلام باتت واضحة: كل من تسول له نفسه من الاعلاميين تناول ملف العاطلين بجرأة وشفافية سوف يصبح منهم #hoda2alhamed
Samar Badawi, a 29 year old divorced mother who was imprisoned for 7 months for not listening to her legal guardian (her father), has been released today into the custody of her uncle. Her cause was courageously taken up by Fouad Al Farhan on Twitter under #Samar. The full story was covered by fellow bloggers Hala Al Dosari and Ahmed Al Omran and Financial Times correspondent Abeer Allam. Now that the nightmare is over for Samar, I wonder how many more people are in prison indefinitely at the mercy of one of our all-powerful judges’ whims.
Mikhlif Al Shammary whose plight was published in detail by HRW in English and Arabic. I highly recommend reading the report. The accusation against him is “annoying others”. He was taken into custody on the 14th of June and is still in prison to this day. This is a letter he sent out for help:
Commission of Hum.Rights
Please protect my rights and demand from saudi gov. to release me . I am Mukhlif bin Daham Al-shammary 57 Male saudi natiomality. Well known as HR defender .Due to my activities in HR and fighting discrimination against Women,Expatriates and religion minorties as well as my online articals calling for peace between Sunni and Shiaa muslims ,and condmn radical religous. So,gov.arrested me on June 14,2010 they charge me of(Annoying others)
The Court reject the case ,but i still in jail .
HRW,Front line defender and Corresp.accross borders call for my release ,but no response.
Mr.Christopher Wilcke and Sarah Leah whitson in HRW have history of my story and problems that face me and my family.
When Ms.Naivi Bailly vist Saudi Arabia,I met here team members and gave them my observation on HR status in the Kingdom.
No good food ,no madical care and they put me with Criminals snme have deangrous deseads like Aids,phthisis and liver deseases.
I need urgent treatmdnt and psychotherapy assistance.
I wrote this E:mail using mobile phone i buy it from one presoner.
Kindly i requsted your honor to persuade my gov. to release me soon since i have not broken any law and protect my physical and mintal safty, and respect its promises to UN and international body. I need freedom of expression and safe inviroment to do my job to protect HR in my country,
I have critical situation ,please do not hisitate to act soon if you think i deserve your support, after you necessary invistegation.
Mukhlif bin Daham Al – shammary
*PVPV stands for Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue
These past few weeks it seems like a day doesn’t pass without a new muttawa blooper coming out. I call them bloopers because the muttawas always have an excuse even if it’s only an oops. These bloopers are becoming more and more frequent. It might be because of more press freedom or because average people are not putting up with it anymore. Whatever it is, muttawa bloopers are definitely not a new concept. An online Saudi newspaper recently published photos of 84 year old documents pertaining to citizens complaining about false arrests and harassment by PVPV members!
You don’t need to go back in time to witness how bad the PVPV can behave. One man in Madina has threatened that he will sue the PVPV for stopping him for two hours on a main street. He had his wife and his mother-in-law in the car with him. A few members of the PVPV were cruising around and apparently decided that the guy looked suspicious so they stopped him even though it is illegal for them to stop people without having an accompanying police officer. The guy refused to neither open his door nor give them evidence as to how the two women are related to him until the police arrived. And so he says that he will sue them for 2 million riyals for stopping him on baseless grounds for two hours and tainting his reputation.
Another man, Mohammed Sultan, also had his wife and mother-in-law in the car with him. He had stopped at a restaurant to pick up some breakfast when a couple of PVPV members demanded that he provide them with his identification papers. He says that he insisted that the police be present and when he started to call the police on his cell phone, they beat him up. Half an hour later the police arrived after the PVPV members called them themselves. They had made such a big deal in their call that five police cars arrived at the scene. The poor guy was taken in and the PVPV pair claimed that they stopped him because he was wearing his pants low (rapper style), even though witnesses at the scene say that Sultan acted and was dressed respectfully.
But the craziest and scariest bloopers are those that happen when a woman is unlucky enough to collide with the PVPV. A couple of days ago, an unrelated young Saudi couple were caught during their rendezvous. The PVPV member directed the police officer to take the young man into custody while he took the girl in his personal car! He disappeared with her in his custudy for an hour and a half and when finally the PVPV member brought the girl in, she informed the officials he had taken her to an isolated area to lecture and advise her. What’s funny is that the PVPV member committed the exact same “crime” of khilwa (spending time alone with an unrelated woman) that he was accusing the couple of.
On a more serious note, last week a young woman was caught by PVPV members in Tabuk because she was trying to get to Jeddah without her guardian’s approval. They illegally took her to the PVPV center without reporting the issue to the police and then locked the doors to the building. The young woman claims that they beat her and were insisting that she had something hidden in her clothes. She also says that they were trying to tie her up when help came. Luckily it was prayer time in a mosque nearby and men there heard her screams and called the police when they found the building locked. The PVPV spokesperson, Mohammed al Zobaidi, gives a completely different account of the events. He claims the woman’s injuries were self-inflected because she probably thought that that was a way out and that it was the PVPV who called the police and not the people at the mosque.
I’m not the only one noticing the increasing frequency of muttawa blooper coverage, at a recent PVPV conference which last few papers I attended, most of the speakers commented on this bad publicity. Unfortunately they did not think of it as an opportunity to reflect on their practices but rather faulted the media. Some even thought the ministry of information should punish editors who allow negative PVPV articles. And this might be why an unidentified someone took it upon himself to shoot at the liberal Watan newspaper building in Abha. Some people never change.
There are no set rules or even boundaries for what could get a writer censored in Saudi Arabia. A person could be banned from writing for being too liberal, like what happened to Wajeha al Huwaider or a whole paper could be blocked from inside Saudi Arabia for being too conservative. The decision-making process of which writers, articles or whole websites get censored is also a mystery. A particular piece could be block and nothing more said, or an individual might be warned off publishing anything in a Saudi targeted medium. In the former case, it’s most likely that a big enough number of people called up the King Abdulazziz Technology City to complain and then a site is blocked. If then enough people complain about the unfairness of having it blocked, the KATC will claim that the whole thing was a mistake and unblock the site, this once happened to Amazon in 2006.
The most recent writer to get a government endorsed complete ban from writing is Mohammed al Rottayan. On the 14th of February, Al Watan newspaper published Rottayan’s satirical take on how different Obama’s aunt would have been received if she were a relative of a Saudi ruler or even a minister. Since then his popular daily column has disappeared and he has not been published elsewhere either. Badria al Bishr bravely wrote on al Hayat website an article asking where Rottayan is. She begins with the old proverbial story about Yousef. It goes that an Arab ruler meets with his people to listen to their complaints and concerns. So Yousef stands up and honestly speaks about his concerns. The next year the ruler meets again with his people and someone stands up and asks the ruler “where’s Yousef?”. She ends the article with a call to everyone to not be silent about what happened to al Rottayan.
Interestingly someone commented on Bishr’s article that they had seen al Rottayan at the Riyadh Book Fair and that he did indeed confirm that he is currently banned from publishing anything.
Finally THIS is getting some attention! I’ve learned that the judge that was sentenced to half what the woman was sentenced to was actually the person writing the complaints for her. And yet he only got half of her punishment because she’s also convicted of going into a government building without a male guardian.
It’s being reported in Business Week and the Australian Herald Sun. It would be great if we could get enough international pressure to get her case revised.