Last edited: February 14, 2005

Saudis and Human Rights

San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 2002
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By Carolyn Lochhead

A little story slipped out of Saudi Arabia the other day. It arrived almost as an afterthought and caused hardly a ripple. No, it wasn’t front-page news about the women veiled head-to-toe by a conservative Islamic regime. This was just a passing item on how the Saudis beheaded a few homosexuals in a public square.

The story—such as it is—comes from Arab News, "Saudi Arabia’s First English-Language Daily," datelined Riyadh, Jan. 2:

"Three Saudi men convicted of sodomy and marrying each other were beheaded yesterday in the southwestern city of Abha, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

"Ali ibn Hatan ibn Saad, Mohammad ibn Suleiman ibn Mohammad and Mohammad ibn Khalil ibn Abdullah were found guilty of engaging in the extreme obscenity and ugly acts of homosexuality, marrying among themselves and molesting the young. The statement said the three men repeated the acts several times and assaulted people who told them to stop.

"A Shariah court sentenced them to death and the judgment was confirmed by the high court and the Supreme Judiciary Council."

No further information is available because the theocratic Saudi state, ruled by the Saud royal family, declined to elaborate.

Only the most assiduous reader of the Washington Post would have spotted the one-sentence mention of this event buried at the bottom of page nine and citing Reuters as a source.

Reuters in turn cited the official Saudi Press Agency, adding only that 122 people, including murderers and rapists, were executed in the kingdom last year, usually by a public beheading.

But no one outside the Saudi government knows exactly how many people the Saudis execute or their alleged crimes.

All media are censored and Internet, satellite and other forms of outside communication are restricted. The country is all but closed to foreign tourists, although the regime, torn between its lust for tourist dollars and fear that its pristine culture will be defiled, has begun permitting small groups of Western tourists, sponsored by museums or universities, to visit cultural sites.

(One of these potential tourist destinations is Abha, the provincial capital where the gay men were beheaded and where the government sees opportunities for ecotourism, given the proximity of the Red Sea and its famous scuba diving.)

The beheadings were conducted under Islamic law, which Saudi Arabia, our dear friend, ally and major oil supplier, uses as its legal code. More specifically, the Saudis have adopted the religious code of a fundamentalist Islamic sect known as Wahhabism. The Saudis have been diligently funding mosques and installing clerics to spread the fiercely anti-American, not to mention gay-hating, Wahhabi word throughout the world.

The Saudi government’s official Web site does not state its gay policy, but it does explain that "the Holy Koran is more suitable for Saudi Muslims than any secular constitution" and that "the entire Saudi population is Muslim; the only non-Muslims in the country are expatriates engaged in diplomacy, technical assistance or international commerce."

Nor does the regime tell us what they do with lesbians, although they do say that "the position of women in Islamic society and in Saudi Arabian society in particular is a complex and frequently misunderstood issue." We do know that women are required to wear full-length veils.

In addition to beheading, common forms of punishment include torture by cigarette burns, nail-pulling and electric shocks. Public lashings with bamboo sticks are also favored, along with amputations of hands or feet.

The Saudi regime, terrified of internal dissent and prickly about international criticism, exercises power through a clever combination of brutal oppression and generous oil-funded welfare. The U.S. government, dependent on Saudi oil, helps prop up the regime. The world, quick to condemn oppression elsewhere, turns a blind eye.

"The international community’s response to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia can best be summarized by one word," says Amnesty International. "Silence."

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