UPDATE: Saudi Arabia: Court ratifies guilty verdict on 75 year old women
In April 2008 Sawadi met two 24-year-old men after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread. The two men, Al-Anzi, Sawadi’s late husband’s nephew, and bin Zein, al-Anzi’s business partner, were also arrested by religious police and found guilty and sentenced to prison terms and lashes. The court based its decision on ‘citizen information’ and testimony for al-Anzi’s father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. Furthermore, the verdict cited the fact that Sawadi is not a Saudi national – although she was married to a Saudi man – and that she was without a husband as evidence of her guilt. Following the implementation of her sentence, Sawadi will face deportation.
10/03/2009: Khamisa Sawadi, who is Syrian but was married to a Saudi, was convicted and sentenced last week for meeting with men who were not her immediate relatives. (AP)
The sentencing of a 75-year-old widow to 40 lashes and four months in prison for mingling with two young men who were reportedly bringing her bread has sparked new criticism of Saudi Arabia's ultraconservative religious police and judiciary. The two men, including one who was Sawadi's late husband's nephew, were also found guilty and sentenced to prison terms and lashes.
The woman's lawyer, Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, told The Associated Press on Monday that he plans to appeal the verdict, which also demands that Sawadi be deported after serving her prison term. He declined to provide more details and said his client, who is not serving her sentence yet, was not speaking with the media.
Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling and women from driving. The playing of music, dancing and many movies also are a concern for hard-liners who believe they violate religious and moral values.
A special police unit called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice enforces these laws, patrolling public places to make sure women are covered and not wearing make up, sexes don't mix, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque to worship.
But criticism of the religious police and judiciary has been growing in Saudi, where many say they exploit their broad mandate to interfere in people's lives.
Last month, the Saudi king dismissed the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing of TV network owners that broadcast "immoral content" — as part of a shake-up signaling an effort to weaken the kingdom's hard-line Sunni Muslim establishment.
In Sawadi's case, the elderly woman met the two 24-year-old men last April after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread, the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan reported.
The men — identified by Al-Watan as the nephew, Fahd al-Anzi, and his friend and business partner Hadiyan bin Zein — went to Sawadi's home in the city of al-Chamil, located north of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. After delivering the bread, the two men were arrested by a one of the religious police, Al-Watan reported.
The court said it based its March 3 ruling on "citizen information" and testimony from al-Anzi's father, who accused Sawadi of corruption.
"Because she said she doesn't have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed," the court verdict read.
Sawadi had told the court that she considered al-Anzi is her son, because she breast-fed him when he was a baby. But the court denied her claim, saying she didn't provide evidence. In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers.
Sawadi commonly asked her neighbors for help after her husband died, said Saudi journalist Bandar al-Ammar, who reported the story for Al-Watan. In a recent article, he wrote that he felt the need to report the case "so everybody knows to what degree we have reached."
Others have also spoken out against the case against Sawadi, accusing the religious police of going too far.
"How can a verdict be issued based on suspicion?" Saudi doctor and columnist Laila Ahmed al-Ahdab wrote in Al-Watan on Monday. "A group of people are misusing religion to serve their own interests."
09 March 2009
By Maggie Michael
Source: The Associated Press
Subject: Imprisonment and Whipping and deportation of 75 year-old Woman
[Your Excellency/ Dear Sir/ Your Highness]
I am deeply concerned by the conviction of Mrs. Khamisa Sawadi, a 75 year old widow living in Hail, northern Saudi Arabia, for ‘illegal mingling’. On 25 August 2009, the court of Al-Shamli found Mrs. Sawadi guilty of the charge of ‘khilwa’ (being alone in the company of a member of the opposite sex who is not a close relative), and the higher court in Riyadh ratified their verdict, sentencing Mrs Sawadi to forty lashes and four months in prison. Furthermore, the verdict cited the fact that Sawadi is a Syrian national – although she was married to a Saudi man – and that she was without a husband as evidence of her guilt. Following the implementation of her sentence, Sawadi will face deportation to Syria. The verdict raises questions not just related to the safety and security of the elderly Mrs. Sawadi, but also the broader situation of human and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
In April 2008 Sawadi met the two 24-year-old men after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread. Since her husband’s death and the marriage of her two daughters, who subsequently relocated to Riyadh, Sawadi had commonly asked her friends and neighbours for help. The two men, Al-Anzi, Mrs. Sawadi’s late husband’s nephew, and bin Zein, al-Anzi’s business partner, were also arrested by religious police and found guilty and have been sentenced to six month prison terms and sixty lashes. The case was first heard on March 3, 2009, when Mrs. Sawadi was accused, and found guilty of the charge. The court based its decision on ‘citizen information’ and testimony from al-Anzi’s father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. However, in May 2009, the Court of Cassation refused to ratify the verdict and returned the case to Al-Shamli court.
As Saudi Arabia is a member of the Human Rights Council, and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2000, as well as being committed to upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we ask that the Saudi authorities fulfil their obligation and correct this breach of international law. In its own letter to the UN Secretary General in 2006 Saudi Arabia claimed to have “a confirmed commitment with the defence, protection and promotion of human rights.”
In the Committee Against Torture’s Concluding Observations/Comments, 2002, they welcomed Saudi Arabia’s ‘declaration that its domestic law, including its components based upon Sharia, is capable of giving full recognition to the rights and obligations contained in the Convention.’ However, fundamental principles of human rights are breached by this sentence. The imposition of corporal punishment is in violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which is a norm of international law that must be complied with, and cannot be overridden by appeals to domestic or religious laws. Furthermore, the sentence is in breach of Article 15 of the UDHR – ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile’ – as Sawadi has not committed any crime that is recognisable in international law, and is facing the further punishment of deportation.
Even under the Sharia laws of Saudi Arabia, Khamisa did not commit any violation. A woman who has passed menopause is exempt from mingling and veiling restrictions by the words of the Quran as a woman of ‘qawa’id’. Mrs Khamisa Sawadi’s well-being and dignity is also protected under the Arab Plan of Action on Ageing to the year 2012, of which Saudi Arabia is a member. One of the objectives that the Plan highlights is the active participation in society and development of older persons. Mrs Sawadi is an elderly widow whose active participation in society is dependent upon the support of others. In CEDAW’s concept note on the draft general recommendations on older women and protection of their rights, the purpose of the recommendations is that older women’s needs must be taken into account so they can age with dignity. This grave assault on the dignity of a 75 year-old woman is a shameful indictment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has a moral and social duty of care towards the elderly.
In her report to the UN Human Rights Council regarding her mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in February 2008, Ms. Erturk, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (UNSRVAW), observed that the lack of written laws governing private life and discretionary court rulings constitute a major obstacle to women’s access to justice. The non-codification of laws leaves the interpretation and application of Sharia to the competency of the courts. Reportedly, judges apply guidelines drawn from customs and traditions such as those practised by tribes in pre-Islamic periods, which often do not comply with obligations contained in the Sharia or in international instruments ratified by Saudi Arabia. (A/HRC/11/6/Add.3, 14 April 2009, C. 1. 75)
I welcome the initiatives to codify judicial practices into law and to rely less and less on outdated jurisprudence as indicated by Saudi officials to the former UNSRVAW. I ask that such measures comply with the State's obligations to international human rights standards signed and ratified by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and will guarantee the non-discriminatory administration of justice to all regardless of their gender, class, religious affiliation, and age. I, therefore, demand that Saudi Arabia demonstrate its commitment to human rights and overturn the verdict, releasing Khamisa Sawadi, Fahd al-Anzi, and Hadiyan bin Zein and revoking the order of deportation.