Sunday, August 24, 2008

In Saudi Arabia: Lashes and Imprisonment for a Phone Call

In Saudi Arabia, innocent phone calls between men and women may lead to hundreds of lashes and months in prison. Last week, after 12 months of debate, a Saudi appeal court sentenced a physician who holds PHD in medicine to 600 hundred lashes and 8 months in prison and his female student to 350 lashes and 4 months in prison, with claim that they committed adultery on phone.

The problem started when the husband of the young student of medicine divorced his wife after seven months of marriage in 2004. Then, he filed a claim against his ex-wife and her supervising professor, Khaled Zahrani 32, demanding the court to punish them because they were talking regularly on phone! According to the husband's claim, his wife and her professor were hiding their "phone" affair with talk about scientific issues related to their work.

The Saudi law, based on Islamic Shari'a, prevents man and woman who are not members of the same family to exist together in the same room, in compliance with the Hadith of Prophet Mohamed "Whenever a man is alone with a woman the Devil makes a third." Apparently, the modern Saudi judge who issued such an unjust verdict against the two innocent physicians had to modernize the Hadith to include "phone" as a "room" that man should not exist at, "alone," with a woman!

Most of the Saudi citizens were delighted by the court sentence, as they believed that this was an adultery relationship, though on the phone! On one of the most read web forums in Gulf, Al-Zohoor, a hot discussion was initiated regarding this case under the title: "May Allah curse the man who tempts a woman to leave her husband." All of the comments praised the confirmation by the appeal court on this unjust and unjustified verdict.

On the international level, several NGOs and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, blamed the Saudi government for not letting the professor and the student free. Amnesty International also considered the two young physicians prisoners of consciousness. Khaled stated that he was denied access to lawyer and the court prevented him form having any chance to defend himself and his innocent student, from the very start. The young professor believe that the only way out for them now is to appeal this unjust verdict to the Judiciary Council, where all cases are reviewed by the King of Saudi Arabia, himself.

In regular adultery cases, the Islamic Shari'a stipulates that there must be a proof on adultery; at least three witnesses other than the husband and/or the physical context where the adultery was committed. In this case, the court listened only to the husband and built its verdict upon his unproven suspicions. There are no witnesses at all or even a physical context. The professor was hired by the hospital he works for to supervise the thesis of this female student in 2002. They never met each other before this date or outside the professional context (hospital and university). Moreover, the usual verdict in adultery cases is only 100 lashes and no imprisonment applied. In this case, both innocent victims were sentenced to hundreds of lashes and long months of imprisonment. Absolutely, this is not fair! This is not of Islam! But, there is no doubt that this is of Saudi Arabia!