Saturday 7 December 2019

Thank God it's not Friday

Raif Badawi. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Raif Badawi. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

John Masterson

Most of us say something along the lines of TGIF as the week's work nears an end. We are looking forward to the weekend and a bit of fun and down time. For most Fridays in 2015, I also thought about Raif Badawi for whom Friday brings nothing but terror. Each Friday he faces 50 lashes in public in Saudi Arabia for setting up a discussion website called Free Saudi Liberals.

Since the first session of his 1000 lashes the torture has been postponed each week as the religious police feel that it is important that you are in good health when you are flogged. There is no shortage of time. He also got ten years in jail for his 'crime'. Mind you, it could be worse. They decided not to try him for apostasy, departing from his religion, and if found guilty that carried the death sentence. It is enough to make you want to lodge a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council.

I have been in Saudi Arabia. I met with nothing but generous hospitality and friendliness. It never occurred to me that I was committing thought crimes punishable by death. A simple sentence like "I wonder what God, if there is a God, would think about having to get children baptised to get into a school" commits all of the essential crimes.

There is also a young Saudi woman sentenced to six months jail and 200 lashes. Her crime was to be gang raped by seven men and go public. She had been out without an approved male guardian so it was her own fault. It is enough to make you want to lodge a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council.

I committed a crime not unlike this (I don't mean the rape) too and am deeply thankful that my female companion was not lashed and imprisoned for riding pillion with me out into the desert near Riyadh. We headed off with an American man who had two fabulous bikes and had breakfast in a small village about an hour away. We were careful not to offend. She always wore a helmet or a head scarf. We kept as low a profile as three Westerners on Harleys in a desert village can manage. We were afterwards told that we were lucky not to have been beaten, or worse, but we felt that people were being alarmist. We figured claiming to be married would have solved everything.

I was horrified at the recent mass executions in Saudi Arabia. I am beyond shocked when I hear of Isis stoning a woman accused of adultery or throwing gay men off roofs. As a 'civilised' ally of ours in that part of the world you would think they could improve their own behaviour and influence others.

The UN Human Rights Council addresses issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, womens' rights and LGBT rights. Ban Ki-Moon said that "all victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action."

Saudi Arabia is a member. Go figure

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