Action Alert & Interview Transcript: Saudi Activist Women Facing Jail for Bringing Abused Woman Food
| June 30, 2013
Two Saudi women’s rights activists, Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni, have been sentenced to 10 months in prison plus a two-year travel ban thereafter—for “encouraging" a French Canadian woman "to defy" her allegedly abusive Saudi husband. Experience has proven what works most effectively are direct pleas to the King—in a polite, not critical, tone, with no disrespect expressed about Sharia law—urging his intervention. It's useful to mention that Saudi Arabia sits on the executive council of U.N. Women and would be publicly compromised by this inappropriate persecution of two women who were merely bringing food to a hungry woman and her children after her husband had left them locked in without food or water. Time is short. Letters should be faxed to:
His Majesty, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
H.E. Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul El Karim Abdul Azziz El Issa
Minister of Justice, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abulaziz
Minister of Interior
With a copy to: The Human Rights Commission, Fax: +966 1 461 2061, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the two activists awaiting sentencing, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, appeared on Episode 44 of Women's Media Center Live with Robin Morgan on June 22 (in the full episode podcast, the Al-Huwaider segment begins at 17:32). A transcript follows.
Robin: Welcome back. We're changing our planned programming for this next interview since it's breaking news. Wajeha Al-Huwaider, the prominent journalist and women's rights activist who's been called the "Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia" has been convicted of inciting an abused wife to defy her husband and she faces imprisonment. Al-Huwaider has been harassed by the Saudi government and/or by the Saudi religious police since 2003, when she was first banned from publishing her writing. In 2006, she was arrested for organizing a women's right protest but nothing has stopped her. In 2008, she posted online a video of herself driving her car. You'll remember that women aren't permitted to drive cars in the kingdom.
But in none of the above-mentioned cases did the charges reached a conviction, much less a sentencing stage. This time seems ominously different. Welcome back to the program Wajeha. I'm sorry it's under such circumstances.
Wajeha: Thank you. I had really a hard time until today. I cannot even believe, I couldn't believe it, what happened to me.
Robin: Back up for a bit and tell the listeners the background. There's a Canadian woman and her children who have, allegedly, been abused and even starved by her Saudi husband and you were bringing her food. Am I correct?
Wajeha: Yes. I've never been to her house. I usually try to send somebody to take food to her. That was the only time we went to her and we, you know, bring her some food when we got caught.
Robin: You were accused and now convicted of supporting a wife without her husband's knowledge thereby undermining her marriage? Is that the charge?
Wajeha: Yes, that's correct. That was the charge.
Robin: And the court did nothing about the fact that he was abusing her?
Wajeha: Of course they know. The story is all over. The story is all over and if you check even local newspaper covered her story. Mainly they always concentrate of she's ... always saying she's poor. She doesn't have food, she doesn't have drinking water and that's what she's always requesting.
Robin: They questioned her word. In other words, they say she's lying?
Wajeha: They never said that, by the way, but also the human rights group here which is actually governmental group, they supported her. They give her some support, money, and also food. Even the apartment she's living, it was actually paid by the government. Still it's not enough. They don't have enough food. The money they give doesn't ... she has three kids and now she's pregnant so whatever they are giving her is not enough.
Robin: Yes, and the husband? What does the husband do about all this? He's ...
Wajeha: He doesn't work.
Robin: Aha. I see.
Wajeha: He has no job.
Robin: You have been charged and convicted now of this charge. Inciting a wife to defy the authority of her husband, I love it, and been sentenced. You've been arrested many times before but this is the first sentencing, is it?
Wajeha: Yes. This is the first time to go this far with the government and [inaudible 00:21:29] to get convicted.
Robin: Yeah. You've been a thorn in their side for years because of your courageous activism. So, they've convicted you to ten months in prison and banned from leaving the country for two years following the completion of the term?
Wajeha: Yes, that's correct.
Robin: And you've appealed?
Wajeha: Yes. We have thirty days and so now it's already ... thirty days to appeal and we didn't know what's going to happen but we are going to hire a lawyer this time because the first time we were trying to defend [inaudible 00:22:11] my friend Fawzia, she only went with me.
Wajeha: And we were trying to defend ourselves but she was able actually to ... the other accusation which was really made up by the police. They said we went there to help her escape.
Wajeha: They couldn't prove it. There is no proof, no evidence. So they dropped that accusation and now we're convicted of something we never thought of. It was not actually discussed in court. That's his conclusion, the judge's conclusion. In Saudi Arabia we have no written laws. It all depends on the judge mood so they say whatever they want because nothing is written. This case could be nothing to another judge and to this judge, I think, it was out of his personal opinion because he knows who we are, Fawzia and I, so that's why he went that far in his decision.
Robin: So he's punishing you not only for this occasion but for all the pas offenses. When you drove, when you helped women and you campaigned against guardianship laws. In other words, he's punishing you for your beliefs?
Wajeha: I'm sure he was doing that and he wasn't doing it because of his opinion, his personal opinion but another was giving him instructions to do that.
Robin: Is this a religious court or a civil ... why am I asking, it's Saudi Arabia. They're the same courts. Were you arrested by the religious police or the civil police?
Wajeha: No. by the police. Actually when we went to there, the minute we arrived a police car arrived at the same time. That means it was proven to us, and I'm sure the judge know that, it was a trap and they meant to catch us at that time in order to make a case against us.
Wajeha: At that time it was dropped even. That was 2011, in June 2011.
Wajeha: It was dropped because the prince ... the governor of the area who is Prince Hamad Bin Maid ... no, sorry his name is Hamed bin Fahd. He the one who said, "Cancel it. I don't want this case to be opened again." Because he knew from the information he got it was really made up and it was a trap.
Wajeha: So we left the police station without even signing anything except not to get closer to the family again. To keep away from them and the Prince will take care of it. Actually after that the husband was hired to work in the governor's office. I don't know what of job he was doing but he was hired to give the family financial support.
Robin: Is there any chance that the Prince might intervene again, the district governor, as he did the last time?
Wajeha: Now, we have a new Prince and I don't know really if he's going to interfere or not because now it went so far. It went through the court system and they always claim the court system as independent. Nobody can interfere. Just to give you an idea, nobody can impact the decisions there ...
Robin: Yeah, right.
Wajeha: ... which is not true. I found out now it's not true at all.
Robin: Yeah. Well, apparently the King can do whatever he wants. If he wants to pardon or he doesn't want to pardon any ... this has happened many times before. My hope is that if we raise the international profile of this sufficiently it embarrasses the royal family, as it has before, and then the King intervenes. Does that seem a good strategy to you? What can women do to be of support to you?
Wajeha: Actually now that's what we are hoping. The King, he's the only one who can get us away ... or get us off this horrible situation.
Wajeha: Only him can get us out. Also there's another chance to get out. If they let Nathalie Morin, the Canadian woman, come and say the truth because she's the only who can say, "These two women, they came to help me not to encourage me to go against my husband." She's been saying that, actually writing that in her blog and she has also a YouTube channel. She said it many times but the judge at that time, when we were going to that court, he refused to bring her and he refused, even, to have the ... when we said we want her and we want the embassy because they said we were trying to help her to escape to the embassy, the Canadian Embassy. He refused to bring them because he knows that we will embarrass everybody and the case.
Robin: Of course.
Wajeha: He didn't want that. He was instructed to continue and to get us convicted.
Robin: Does she want to stay or does she want to escape ... to leave? Do you know?
Wajeha: She wants to leave the country but she doesn't want to do it illegally.
Robin: I see.
Wajeha: It's not possible anyway and it's too dangerous.
Wajeha: She has very small kids. It's not possible. Even the accusation now that they're saying ... that we are trying to get her to divorce her husband. She doesn't want that. She wants to stay with her husband even though he is not really a good husband but she knows in the Saudi law if she gets divorced she will lose the kids.
Wajeha: She is here and suffering so much because of these kids.
Robin: Because of the kids?
Wajeha: Yeah. She will never leave. Why would she do that?
Robin: Of course.
Wajeha: When she left before, I think it was in 2005, she came back because she couldn't live without her kids.
Robin: Correct. Can't have the kids, yes.
Robin: The Canadian government is not intervening or doing anything? Are their hands tied?
Wajeha: I am really shocked that the Canadian Embassy ... they are not doing anything about her case. They are not helping her. They are not supporting her. I feel it's not like ... it's any Asian. We know this is ... we have this from experience you see. If the Asian citizens here in Saudi Arabia, like people from India or Sri Lanka ...
Wajeha: Their government don't care about them.
Wajeha: When they face bad situation here.
Robin: I know.
Wajeha: I was really shocked. Even the Canadians? What kind of a country is that? I mean, they are considered a westernized and they a democratic government and they're not supporting their citizen?
Robin: Well, maybe we can alert the Canadian feminist movement and they can put pressure on their government.
Wajeha: They should.
Robin: This is what are those international women's movement for so we'll put the wheels in motion as much as we can. Listen, will you please keep us posted and we will do everything we can starting from this minute so that that sentence does not have to be fulfilled. And so that she can come out and so that you can go about your life and your work. I send you my personal love and embrace and sisterhood.
Wajeha: Thank you. Thank you for your support.
Robin: Shukran, my dear. Take care. We'll talk soon.
Wajeha: Bye bye. Thank you.
Robin: Oh dear. One of the things that you can do is to sign the petition that Equality Now has online. Just go to equalitynow.org and it will link you to the petition and ways of writing the government, in particular the king. That brings pressure, international pressure makes a difference here, because the royal family gets embarrassed, they know it looks bad and then the king pardons. Equalitynow.org.