The Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights is a respected organization established by intellectuals who seek to protect human rights in the Kingdom and the creation of both democratic and legal institutions that guarantee such rights. Not surprising, the Saudi government has treated such ideas as terroristic threats and has jailed many of its members. The latest is one of the founders Issa al-Hamid who was convicted of inciting people to breach public order, insulting the judiciary, defaming the kingdom’s senior religious clerics and establishing an unlicensed organization. Our close ally in the Middle East has once again shown how it stands in direct opposition to the most basic rights of free speech and free exercise. Rather than actually move its laws and government out of the Middle Ages, the Kingdom has hired a variety of top firms, including leading establishment figures like Tony Podesta, to improve its reputation with the American public (particularly with the expected release of the long withheld 9-11 reports pages that reportedly implicate Saudi officials in the attack.
Issa al-Hamid, 47, has been previously arrested for inciting protests. That’s right, not inciting violence but protests including (gasp) protests by women in Saudi Arabia.
All 11 founding members of the organization are now currently either imprisoned or on trial facing imprisonment. Adding tragic irony, he was arrested for advocating the rule of law in Saudi Arabia so they sent him to Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, which handles terrorism cases and denies defendants the most basic legal protections.
Issa al-Hamid is a reminder of the incredibly brave civil libertarians in Saudi Arabia who have risked everything to try to bring the rule of law to that country. They bravely face the consequences of having faux “judges” sit in judgment of them as dictated either by the government or a medieval Sharia code. I have had the honor of speaking with Saudi academics who support this movement for civil liberties in the past. In time I hope that their fellow citizens will understand exactly how much they sacrificed for their nation.
Issa al-Hamid was sent away to the nightmarish Saudi prison system as President Obama arrived to reaffirm our close alliance with the Saudi kingdom.