The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.
In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.
This is a story that will never go away. And neither should it. It typifies all that is bad in our society; fear of foreigners, an injust and inept judicial system, refusal to acknowledge the blindingly obvious, fear of "losing face" at a governmental level.
Judge Says Torture Allegations by Britons Baseless
JEDDAH, 15 May 2004 — A Saudi high court judge has dismissed as “baseless” allegations by four Britons that they were tortured at a Riyadh prison to extract confessions.
Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Khudairy said the six Westerners — four Britons, a Canadian and a Belgian — were convicted after 13 judges had looked into the case.
Three of them were sentenced to death while two others were given jail terms for carrying out a series of blasts in Riyadh and Alkhobar in 2001, Okaz newspaper reported.
The court convicted the five after they confessed their crimes on Saudi Television. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd later pardoned them at the request of their families.
Here we have a Saudi High Court judge saying that there is nothing wrong with the Saudi judicial system. Well, to quote the legendary Mandy Rice-Davies, commenting on one of her "tricks" who denied ever meeting her, "He would say that, wouldn't he?".
Quite simply, the Saudi legal system is completely In Camera
. That means that there are no cameras! There are also no reporters. The process is totally secret. I was flippant before when I said that cases were decided by cockroach races and reading entrails. In fact no animals are harmed in the process. The case is decided on the basis of scissors - paper - stone (best of five). However I digress.
The story starts in November 17, 2000, when Christopher Rodway and his wife were driving thru Riyadh in their 4WD. Suddenly it blew up, and Mr Rodway was seriously injured. We have a very stupid law that prevents us giving first-aid before the paramedics come , and they took 40 minutes to arrive. So poor Mrs Rodway, who was less seriously injured, had to sit all that time in her wrecked vehicle, next to her husband who was bleeding to death, surrounded by a crowd of gawping Saudis who could not or would not do anything to help. It beggars belief.
There then followed a series of attacks against westerners, of which this is an incomplete list.
A year of attacks on expats
What happened then was that the police started arresting other westerners, and said that the whole thing was some sort of turf war between the operators of illegal expatriate "pubs". (And no, they didn't have signs outside like "Rose and Crown", with karaoke music drifting out of the window, they're nondescript houses in housing compounds.) Well to those of us on the outside, this seemed complete nonsense. The people picked up were "boozers", it was generally accepted, but boozers are usually good at boozing, not at making sophisticated bombs with mercury-switch detonation mechanisms. The obvious answer was some sort of home-grown anti-western terrorist organization.
However this wasn't obvious to Prince Nayif. And every time there was another bombing, more westerners got arrested. Being a westerner at that time was no joke.
If you got bombed, it was Bad News, because:
a) Everyone assumed you were a boozer
b) Your wife and family had to pack up and leave within five days, because their visas were no longer valid without you, and
c) You were dead
Whereas, if you didn't get bombed, you were in dread of the night-time knock on the door, because Nayif needed more western scapegoats.
The situation became so ludicrous that even in 2002, westerners were still being arrested following bombings. Nayif was committed to his piece of fiction, and he would "lose face" if he owned up to the obvious truth. He even at one point accused the kindly and civilized diplomats from the British Embassy of being behind the whole thing.
The whole thing was no joke for those who were arrested. They got the full "Saudi Prison Experience", and were even paraded on TV to give "confessions", which is why they are now suing. This lengthy article will give you some flavor of their ordeal.
Why did the Government of Saudi Arabia frame seven westerners for a series of car bombings they didn't commit?
Those car bombings, which began in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in November 2000, killed three members of the expatriate community and severely injured several others. To western observers, they were clearly the work of Islamic fundamentalists.
But the Saudis were not about to admit that. So five Britons, a Canadian and a Belgian found themselves arrested, systematically tortured into false confessions and eventually convicted of those bombings.
The whole farce ended with the major housing compound bombings of a year ago. That was something they couldn't pin on westerners, although I've no doubt the option occurred to them. So the prisoners got a "Royal Pardon", not, you will note, a reprieve. No wonder these guys are suing. I wish them all the best. The shame of this episode will sully Saudi Arabia's name, until the government has the honesty and courage to come out to the world and say "We were wrong, and we aplogize to these men and their families for the trauma we have inflicted on them."