Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ Category

A Melbourne woman trapped for years in Saudi Arabia has been deported and forced home without three of her children, who remain with her allegedly abusive former husband.

The Australian consul and embassy officials surrounded the 33-year-old Muslim convert, Jennifer Birrell, as she collapsed on the road outside her Riyadh home and pleaded with her ex-husband: ”Please, don’t take my kids from me.”

The children, Aliyah, 8, Salem, 7, and Ibraheem, 4 – all born in Australia – wept as they were separated from their mother before she was escorted to the airport with her two other children and flown to Melbourne, where they arrived late on Friday night.

After a long struggle to obtain exit visas for her family, Ms Birrell, who had been the director of English at Al-Yamamah University, says she was suddenly told this month she was being deported without charge or explanation – and with no right to the three children fathered by her ex-husband.

Her present husband, Mohammed Ahmed Nagi, the father of her baby son, languishes in jail in Riyadh where he has been sentenced to three years’ incarceration and subjected to 300 lashes for ”destruction of the family”.

Ms Birrell says her ex-husband trumped up this home-wrecking charge six months after he had granted her a divorce in February last year.

The ex-husband, a Yemeni-born Australian citizen with a Saudi passport, allegedly renewed his sponsorship of Ms Birrell illegally after their divorce, falsely stating they were still married. He defied a judge’s order to relinquish that control, which meant she could not get an exit visa.

”Now I’m expected to just accept that I will lose my children and not be able to see them for 10 years, and I can’t even come back to Saudi to visit them,” Ms Birrell said yesterday in Melbourne, where she, 11-year-old Jamilla and one-year-old Ahmed are staying, for now, with a friend.

Ms Birrell married her former husband in Adelaide in 1998. They moved to Saudi Arabia in 2004 with her eldest daughter and his three children, all Australian citizens. She left him almost two years ago after he allegedly threatened to kill her and bashed her with a candle stick, caving in her forehead.

Last month, on December 8, she says the Australian ambassador in Riyadh, Kevin Magee, called. ”He said we have a breakthrough in your case … you and all of your children can leave and go back to Australia.”

But the three children did not have passports. ”I took in the copies of my medical reports on the domestic violence I received at the hands of my ex-husband.”

Emergency passports were approved. But when the Australian consul, Benjamin Van Eldik, went to local authorities, she says, he was told the original order for her exit visas was at a police station.

After visiting the station, Ms Birrell says: ”He told me: ‘Jennifer you just have to accept it. You are being deported without your children.”’

He had said the Australians were powerless and could not be seen to be interfering with Saudi law.

”He said, ‘I know it’s not easy but when you get back to Australia you can rain down hell on them for what they have done.”’

Ms Birrell says that, at the request of a friend, the son of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud tried to intervene last Thursday. He had arranged a meeting with the king, but not until the day after her scheduled flight. She says an Australian official warned he would call the police if she did not board the flight.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said extensive consular assistance had been given to Ms Birrell and her children since March 2007 to help them return to Australia. She said Ms Birrell was the subject of an investigation for a ”serious criminal offence” under Saudi law, though she could not elaborate.

Ms Birrell said she had not been charged and knew of no such offence.


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A prominent Saudi cleric has issued an edict calling for opponents of the kingdom’s strict segregation of men and women to be put to death if they refuse to abandon their ideas.

Shaikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak said in a fatwa the mixing of genders at the workplace or in education “as advocated by modernisers” is prohibited because it allows “sight of what is forbidden, and forbidden talk between men and women.”

“All of this leads to whatever ensues,” he said in the text of the fatwa published on his website (albarrak.islamlight.net).

“Whoever allows this mixing … allows forbidden things, and whoever allows them is an infidel and this means defection from Islam … Either he retracts or he must be killed … because he disavows and does not observe the Shariah,” Barrak said.

“Anyone who accepts that his daughter, sister or wife works with men or attend mixed-gender schooling cares little about his honor and this is a type of pimping,” Barrak said.

Barrak, believed to be 77, does not hold a government position but he is viewed by Islamists as the leading independent authority of Saudi Arabia’s hardline version of Sunni Islam, often termed Wahhabism.

Western diplomats believe that King Abdullah’s push for reforms is resisted by a mainly older generation of clerics who still control the religious establishment.

The monarch dismissed a cleric from a top council of religious scholars in October after he demanded that religious scholars vet the curriculum at a new flagship mixed-gender university.

The kingdom, a major U.S. ally, is ruled by the al-Saud family in alliance with clerics from the strict Wahhabi school of Islam who oversee mosques, the judiciary and vast parts of education, and run a religious police body.

The Saudi government pays a morals police squad that roams streets and shopping malls to make sure unrelated men and women are kept apart, that women are covered from head to toe and search for alcohol and drugs under the kingdom’s austere interpretation of Islam.

In 2008, Barrak issued a fatwa that two Saudi writers should be tried for apostasy for their “heretical articles” and put to death if they did not repent after the two wrote articles that questioned the Sunni Muslim view in Saudi Arabia that Christians and Jews should be considered unbelievers.

He has also denounced Shiite Muslims as “infidels” in another edict that coincided with sectarian tensions in Iraq.

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Judges of the General Court of Medina in Saudi Arabia confirmed a death sentence against Lebanese magician Ali Hussein Subat, accused of witchcraft and on trial for about two years.

The forty-seven year old Subat was caught in the act of committing the crime in a Medina hotel room, covered with papers with magical symbols, while he was using herbs and amulets for one of his rituals.

On December 8, pointed out Arab News’ website, the Saudi Arabian Court of Appeals rejected the judges’ sentence of first instance from the Medina court. The effects of the sentence were suspended, to give the man – a well-known magician on satellite TV programmes who performed with the name “Scheherazade Magician” – to “show repentance” and to verify the authenticity of the accusations against him.

During the two years of the trial, Subat, who was also accused of fraud, admitted to practicing black magic rituals and contributing to the break-up of marriages. According to prosecutors of the general court, Subat allegedly practiced black magic publically on television in front of millions of spectators for years and did not show any remorse.

According to the General Court, the death penalty sentence must serve “as a warning and deterrent so that others – foreigners in particular – do not perform sorcery in Saudi Arabia”. Now the case will be heard by the Mecca Court of Appeals.

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A Jeddah court sentenced an Asian maid to 200 lashes and a year in prison after being found guilty of mixing her urine into the food of the family she works for.

The maid’s sponsor complained and accused her of performing black magic. The maid reportedly claimed she was getting back at the family for bad treatment. The woman did not appeal the verdict.

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Five Ansar-Village Defence Party (VDP) women members, who went to Saudi Arabia late July this year to work as housemaids, returned home within a few days of joining the workplaces where they allegedly became victims of sexual harassment by employers.

Upon their return, the victims filed complaints to the Ansar-VDP office in this regard, but they are yet to receive any response.

Some 150 Ansar-VDP women went to Saudi Arabia to work as housemaids after receiving a one-month training at Shafipur Ansar Academy.

The women, who were given assurance of 400 rials as monthly salary, had to pay Tk 35,000 each to recruiting agencies for arranging their travel to Saudi Arabia.

While officials of Ansar-VDP, Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) and recruiting agency officials said that the women returned mainly because they could not adjust with the environment and felt homesick, the accounts of the returnees show a different picture.

When Sultana Akter, 19, daughter of Mukteruddin of Netrakona, arrived in Ma-Hawa-Maktab, a Saudi Arabia branch office of Akbar Enterprise, a recruiting agency based in Dhaka, she was taken to the house of an Arab named Ahammad on July 27.

As soon as she reached the house, her mistress ordered her to wash clothes.  When Sultana said she was very tired and hungry after the long travel, the callous mistress started beating her.  Sultana had to wash clothes and then go to bed in an empty stomach, as she was not given any food, she told The Daily Star.

Minutes after Sultana’s going to bed, her employer locked the room’s door from outside.  At midnight Ahammad entered the room and attempted to rape her, Sultana said, adding,

“Despite my strong resistance, he almost unclothed me, but I cried and managed to leave the room and took shelter at the room of the mistress,” she said.

The employer then beat her with a stick and took her to Ma-Hawa-Maktab the next morning.

There she found Ansar-VDP members Farhana, 18, of Habiganj and Lipi, 19, of Tangail, who were brought there to be sent back home as they did not agree to their employers’ proposal for having physical relationship, Sultana said.

Confining them for four days, employees of Ma-Hawa-Maktab tortured them for “wanting to come back without completing their 3-year period”.

The employees kept the Ansar-VDP members’ signatures on pieces of white paper and sent them to Dhaka by Bangladesh Biman on August 3.

“I am an unmarried girl, and my father is a poor man. I want stern action and compensation,” said Sultana, who recently met State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar and appealed for looking into the matter.

Sultana’s colleague Selina Sultana Ranu of Khulna also returned home on August 27.

Selina, who was in service only for three days, told The Daily Star that her employer Rashed in Riyadh wanted to use her as a prostitute.

“As I refused, my master beat me brutally and sent me to jail with the help of the recruiting agency (that sent her to the KSA),” she said, adding that the agency sent her to Bangladesh after one month.

Meanwhile, Ansar-VDP member Rani Akter of Thakurgaon, who went to Saudi Arabia, recently wrote to her mother that she, along with many other Ansar-VDP members, is spending a tough time in Saudi Arabia.

There are allegations that the employers do not give them adequate food, do not pay them, and even torture them physically when they ask for it.

Although Ansar-VDP Deputy Director Golam Kibria said he forwarded the complaints to Akbar Enterprise, the recruiting agency’s Managing Director Akbar Hossain Monju denied their having any branch office named Ma-Hawa-Maktab in Riyadh, and said he is not aware of any such complaints.

Meanwhile, Golam Kibria said there is now very little possibility of proving the allegations as the returnees did not immediately inform about their sexual harassment to the Saudi authorities.

Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia is investigating the matter and measures will be taken in light of the agreements between the recruiting agencies and the employers if the allegations are proved, he added.

The Ansar-VDP department has not informed anything about the issue, State Minister for Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Major (retd) Quamrul Islam said, adding that he will look into the matter as soon as his ministry gets official information about it.

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A Saudi court has sentenced an employee of the kingdom’s religious police to 120 lashes for marrying six women.

The man said he was not educated enough to know that Islam does not allow men to marry more than four women at any one time, said an official at Ahad al-Massarha court in the southern province of Jazan.

“The judge did not believe him. Nobody believed him. I honestly did not,” the official said.

The court banned the man from standing as a preacher and leading prayers, ordered him not to travel abroad for a five-year period and to memorise two chapters from the Koran.

The accused, in his fifties, is not a member of the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’s morals squad but holds an administrative position there, the official said.

Shaikh Abdul-Mohsen al-Qaffari, spokesman of the virtue and vice commission, said it was the commission that discovered the case. Judge Salman al-Waadani, who pronounced the sentence, could not be reached for comment.

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Women in Saudi Arabia are being asked to join a two-week boycott of lingerie shops in the Middle Eastern kingdom that employ male staff to serve female customers.

As part of a campaign which Arab News confirms began in February 2009, although AFP says that its organizer Reem Asaad first started pressuring Saudi officials to allow women to work as lingerie shop assistants in 2008, a request has been made for members of the female population in the largest country in the Middle East to join a two-week boycott of such shops.

With public protests not allowed in Saudi Arabia Ms Asaad, an economics professor at a college in the country’s second largest city Jeddah, has had to rely on Facebook to spread the word about the boycott that was due to begin on Saturday.

In 2005 Saudi Minister of Labor Dr. Al Qusaibi launched an initiative to encourage lingerie shops to employ female sales staff in order to ensure that “common decency” prevails and women enjoy the “personal comfort” that comes from discussing their lingerie needs with other women and not men.

While some shops do reportedly employ female sales staff it seems to be, somewhat ironically, the stance taken by the Wahhabi-influenced religious establishment – Islam is the official religion in Saudi Arabia and the authorities do not allow those living in the country to practice other religions – that has led to women having to buy their underwear from men.

Those clerics have apparently actively discouraged, or forbidden, the employment of women.

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