David Keyes writes: “I feel sick. I think I’m going to throw up,” a prominent Saudi academic told me yesterday. “I was waiting for something like this to happen but I didn’t think it would be Raif. I’m thinking of his wife and kids. I really feel sick.”
On July 29, Raif Badawi, founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison. His crime? Insulting Islam, speaking ill of Saudi Arabia’s religious police and, most puzzling of all, “parental disobedience.”
Badawi is a 30-year-old man. Can an adult be imprisoned for disobeying his father? In Saudi Arabia, where all citizens are treated as children, the answer to that question is ‘yes.’ The Saudi dictatorship doesn’t trust its citizens to speak their mind, and so impose paternalistic and draconian laws to keep in check those who might think differently.
Women in particular are infantilized, and their ability to move around, unaccompanied by a male guardian, is severely restricted. Women are banned from driving. They cannot go to coffee shops or restaurants alone. And according to Saudi law, a woman cannot decide for herself to go on religious pilgrimage. She must have a man’s approval and be accompanied by her guardian.
Saudi Arabia is considered a close U.S. ally. Yet every few weeks a case like Badawi’s reminds us that despite a massive PR effort, the Kingdom remains a vicious tyranny that will lock you away for speaking openly about politics or religion. [Continue reading…]