Abdul-Rahman’s caseload includes representing Mansour al-Timani and his wife, Fatima, the couple divorced without their knowledge by Fatima’s half-brothers, and a rape victim sentenced to 90 lashes. More ridiculous rulings by our “Friend and Ally” are described below. Sharia Alert. “Saudi Lawyer Takes On Religious Court System,” by Faiza Saleh Ambah for the Washington Post:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem said he had been waiting years for a case like this: A woman and her daughter, both accused of promiscuity, were followed by the morals police as they left a private residence on the outskirts of the capital.
The police, who enforce adherence to Saudi Arabia’s strict religious laws, beat up the women’s driver and drove off with them locked in the back of the car. When the car broke down half an hour later, the officers abandoned them in the stranded
The police assumed that the women had been visiting male friends. But the two had been at the home of female relatives. And unlike the thousands who had previously been intimidated into dropping their grievances, they insisted on taking their kidnappers to court. The case, which goes to trial next week, will give Lahem a chance to finally confront the powerful morals police, whom he considers the country’s worst human rights offenders.
Lahem, a 35-year-old father of two, contends that the police oppress people in the name of religion and act as if the law doesn’t apply to them. He wants to prove them wrong.
“If we win this case, it will have more of an impact than a dozen lectures or newspaper articles,” he said. “It will send a powerful message to them, and to the public, who view men of the cloth as untouchable. It will prove that nobody is above the rule of law.”
Over the past three years, Lahem has taken on the country’s most controversial and sensitive cases and turned them into high-profile indictments of the justice system. He has been thrown in jail several times and banned from traveling abroad. But he continues to fight what he considers an antiquated judiciary, out of step with basic human
Lahem’s involvement in any case has come to mean trouble, or at least intense scrutiny, for judges across the kingdom.
He took the case of a high school chemistry teacher, Mohammad al-Harbi, who was sentenced last year to 40 months in prison and 750 lashes for “trying to sow doubt” among his students by speaking positively about Judaism and
Christianity. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz pardoned him.
In his Riyadh office, human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, right, talks to a man whose mother and sister are suing the country’s religious police. “If we win this case,” he said, “it will prove that nobody is above the rule of law.”
Another client, Rabbah al-Quwai’i, a journalist, was arrested this year for “harboring destructive thoughts” and accused of promoting homosexuality by commenting on Internet forums that it was a genetic predisposition. The case was thrown out of court.
Two factors have worked in Lahem’s favor: a reform-minded king and, since Abdullah took control of the country several years ago, a freer press that has helped publicize the lawyer’s cases. But Lahem is still up against a deeply traditional justice system and widespread public ignorance about human rights and the rule of law.
Civil rights groups and independent human rights organizations are banned here, and the first of two government-appointed human rights committees was set up only in 2004. Previously, disputes and grievances were addressed by provincial governors at weekly salons or settled out of court by mediators. The governors, mainly princes from the ruling al-Saud
family, sometimes set up committees to look into complaints.
Despite laws in place since 2002 protecting suspects’ rights to legal counsel and requiring public trials, most trials are held in secret, without defense lawyers.
Defendants often ask Lahem to help after they have gone to court without an attorney and verdicts have been pronounced.