I’ve seen a lot of justified outrage over this: The trial and conviction of an illiterate woman as a witch in Saudi Arabia. Yes, the Saudi legal system and government really are that backward, vicious and barbaric. As Human Rights Watch writes in its original report on the case:
The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges that have no basis in law.
“The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like ‘witchcraft’ underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Fawza Falih’s case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system.”
The judges relied on Fawza Falih’s coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had “bewitched” them to convict her in April 2006. She retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint. She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be hospitalized as a result of the beatings.
The judges never investigated whether her confession was voluntary or reliable or investigated her allegations of torture. They never even made an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is said to have “bewitched.” They also broke Saudi law in multiple instances, ignoring legal rules on proper procedures in a trial.
The judges did not sit as a panel of three, as required for cases involving the death penalty. They excluded Fawza Falih from most trial sessions and banned a relative who was acting as her legal representative from attending any session. Earlier, her interrogators blocked her access to a lawyer and the judges, and denied her the right to professional legal representation, thus depriving her of the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against her. She claims that some of the witnesses were unknown to her and that others had made statements against her only as a result of beatings.
As I say, the outrage is justified, and Saudi-Arabia deserves widespread condemnation and ridicule. However, condemnation and ridicule aren’t going to stop Fawza Falih from getting executed. So I’ve been asking myself and others "what are we going to do about this?"
And I don’t have an answer. It’s easy to think of fun things you can do to protest. We could threaten to reprint cartoons representing the prophet Mohammed until the Saudis relent, or we could boycott Saudi oil until
you forgetthey relent, or, and I should stress that my next suggestion won’t be any less feasible than the previous ones, we could collectively travel back in time to September 12, 2001 and put that loathsome backwater in our crosshairs along with Afghanistan and instead of Iraq.
The only thing I can think of that ordinary people can do is to talk to both the Saudi government and their own. Write letters to your Saudi consulate or embassy, write to your MP/congressman/whatever, write to your Foreign Secretary, and tell them, politely (in other words, don’t borrow phrasing from this blog post), why you think Fawza Falih should not be executed. Unfortunately, neither HRW nor Amnesty International provide ready templates, but you and I can do this in our own words. Campaign.
By the way… I’m not suggesting that this is the only thing that can be done. Just that I can’t think of anything else, but this is likely to be a failure of my own imagination as much as anything else. If you have a better idea, or even a hare-brained idea that might lead us to a better one, tell me. email@example.com.