Saudi King Abdullah steps in to defend a female journalist sentenced to flogging
As far as I’m concerned, there is only one surprising element of this weekend’s story about a female Saudi journalist who was sentenced to 60 lashes. It isn’t that the country’s Wahhabi clerics decided to pursue legal action against not only Mazen Abdul-Awad, a Saudi man who aired his dirty sexual laundry on a program for Lebanese TV (he, by the way, has already been sentenced to five years in jail and 1,000 lashes for his indiscretion), but also LBC, the station that aired the show. And in one of the world’s most misogynist nations, it isn’t hard to believe that a court tried and convicted 22-year-old Rozanna al-Yami in connection with the scandal, “on grounds that the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. she worked for did not have proper authorization to operate in the Islamic kingdom.” (Never mind that, as the Associated Press reports, “The charges included involvement in preparing the program and advertising it on the Internet. Ms. Yami said she had worked as a coordinator for the program but had not worked on the episode in question.”) Despite the many layers of injustice involved in al-Yami’s conviction and sentence, it wasn’t even a shock to learn that she wouldn’t fight her punishment. “I was not aware (that LBC was unlicensed), but in the end this is the verdict and I accept it,” Reuters quotes al-Yami as saying. “I don’t want to appeal.”
No, the only aspect of al-Yami’s case that raises my eyebrows is this: Early Monday morning, the Canadian Press broke the news that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has stepped in to defend the journalist. Donna Abu-Nasr reports that “the king waived the sentence and ordered al-Yami’s case and that of another journalist — a pregnant woman also accused of involvement in the program — be referred to an Information Ministry committee.” It certainly bodes well for women in the country that the controversial Saudi leader (who Reuters notes “has begun to reform education and the judiciary in recent years, partly to discourage Islamic militancy”) was willing to defy the nation’s ultra-conservative clerics in an obvious case of guilt by association. But then, the king’s women’s rights record has always been shoddy, at best. And since the international press picked up on al-Yami’s story in a big way, the move may primarily be a play to improve Saudi Arabia’s public image.
It’s also heartening to see King Abdullah — for whatever reason — stand up for greater freedom of the press. “This is the first case in which a journalist was tried at a court of summary jurisdiction for an offense relating to the nature of his or her profession,” Sulaiman al-Jumaie, the lawyer who defended Abdul-Awad, told Reuters. Had the king upheld al-Yami’s sentence, the decision might have set a precedent for further persecution of journalists.
Although this case ended well, al-Yami’s conviction does raise some questions worth pursuing. For one thing, it’s notable that she and another woman appear to be the only journalists charged in connection with the incident. Of course, the official reasons for al-Yami’s trial range from her employment at an unlicensed network to the apparently bogus suggestion that she aided in ”preparing the program and advertising it on the Internet.” But what the ordeal really smacks of is yet another attempt at deterring women from entering the workforce. With that in mind, al-Yami’s victory feels particularly sweet.
Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet. More Judy Berman.
More Related Stories
- How I ended up in a pyramid scheme
- My bipolar partner beat me
- Teenagers care more about online privacy than you think
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- Kicked out of the mall -- for an anti-cancer hat
- Why do men pretend to be women online?
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Is Pittsburgh the next Portland?
- Tornado survivor to Wolf Blitzer: Sorry, I'm an atheist. I don't have to thank the Lord
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11