The plight of servants in Saudi Arabia is well-documented as foreign workers particularly are beaten and sexual assaulted with little apparent repercussions from the Kingdom. Women generally are denied basic rights and freedoms in the country which follows the medieval Sharia legal system. Now a wife is facing imprisonment because she filmed her husband sexually assaulting a maid and posted it. Such filming is viewed as defamation and subject to imprisonment in the draconian legal system in Saudi Arabia.
In the United States, defamation must be first and foremost untrue and truth is a defense. In this case the housewife used her mobile phone to film her husband making sexual advances on their maid as the maid tries to push him away. The wife uploaded the footage to YouTube, alongside the caption “the minimal punishment for this husband is to scandalise him”. Apparently not in Saudi Arabia.
While many women supported the housewife, experts say that she could face criminal charges for defamation under laws designed to keep people from taking embarrassment or scandalous pictures as so called “information technology crimes.”
The case is interesting because for years I have been critical of the effort during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State to support efforts making blasphemy a crime. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Saudi Arabia to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard. Now that effort has come to a head with the new President of Egypt President Mohamed Mursi calling for enactment of an anti-blasphemy law at the United Nations. Mursi is also demanding legal action against the filmmaker by the United States despite the fact that the film is clearly protected by the first amendment.
This case shows how the Saudis treat exercises of a wide variety of free speech as threatening social order. In this case, the mere fact that the picture is true does not alter the fact that it can be treated as a criminal matter. In the United States, a person can sue civilly for “intrusion upon seclusion” or publication of embarrassing private facts, but these are not crimes. The wife was not trespassing or committing any cognizable crime.