Saudi Arabia’s legal system has long been a nightmare for civil libertarians and anyone on this side of the dark ages. However, in the face of the arrest and coerced confession of an American businesswoman for sitting next to man at Starbucks (who was not a relative), the religious police is defending its action in the case. It appears that it was the woman’s fault entirely for committing the offense to Islam — a helpful clarification from those who bring us weekly examples of why the separation of church and state is so essential for liberty.
An American businesswoman named Yara (she is withholding her last name) was arrested, strip searched and forced to sign a false confession after she was captured in the act of sitting with a male at a Starbucks in Riyadh.
Ironically, Yara had just been at the Starbucks with Neil Bush, President George W. Bush’s younger brother and CEO of the education software company Ignite! and even boasted about Saudi justice. She is a managing partner at a Saudi financial company, but it did not help her when she was spotted by the Saudi “Mutaween” police.
The 37-year-old mother of three was wearing an abaya and a headscarf, but she violated the rule of women sitting with non-family males. Because Starbucks has WiFi, it is popular for such business meetings. She had just opened her laptop when the police swooped in.
She was immediately accused of committing a great “sin” by members of the Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Yara said she treated roughly, yelled at, strip searched and forced to sign a confession. She then went people a Saudi “judge” who duly informed her that she would “burn in hell.”
Rather than denounce this abuse, the Saudi police have issued a statement heralding their achievement in catching the Starbucks siren. (The man of course was released). What is curious is that they seem to be trying to convince people that this is all in accord with the letter and spirit of the law:
“It’s not allowed for any woman to travel alone and sit with a strange man and talk and laugh and drink coffee together like they are married . . . All of these are against the law and it’s clear it’s against the law. First, for a woman to work with men is against the law and against religion. Second, the family sections at coffee shops and restaurants are meant for families and close relatives,” it continued.
The Commission further denied the strip search and the coerced confession. According to them, an American businesswoman confessed on her own accord to this medieval offense. It further accused her of the sin of wearing makeup, not covering her hair and “moving around suspiciously” in the coffee shop.
Now the entire family is “afraid for our lives, for our family and from further harassment.” They are considering a return to the United States.
The government is also moving against journalists who have reported this latest absurd product of the Saudi legal system: “The Commission has the right to sue the writers because of the lies they are spreading. It gives the wrong idea of Saudi Arabia.” Two columnists are being targeted.
The question is when western companies will take a stand in support of their own employees and formally object to these actions. Of course, the Bush Administration has been virtually silent in the face of this and past abuses of women and criminal defendants in the Saudi system.
For the latest on this story, click here