75-Year-Old Widow Sentenced for Fraternization With Men in Saudi Arabia

19 03 2009

75-year-old Khamisa Sawadi was convicted last week in Saudi Arabia of fraternizing with two men who were not within her immediate family.  The men reportedly brought the elderly woman bread.  Sawadi was sentenced to 4 months in prison, 40 lashes, and deportation.

The men were also sentenced to prison and lashings.  According to the Arab News, Al-Anzi, one of the sentenced men, said:

The woman asked me to bring bread for her. At that time, I contacted my friend Hadyan who was incidentally passing and he helped me buy bread, as I did not have a car. After I gave her the bread two commission officials came. They first said they belonged to a charity and wanted to know the living condition of the woman. While we were going out they caught us and handed over to the police.

The court argued that its March 3 ruling was based on information from citizens and the testimony of Al-Anzi’s father, who accused Sawadi of corruption.  The Hail police spokesperson refused to give a statement of clarification to the media.  Fariyal King, a legal specialist, argued that:

The Interior Ministry has appointed spokesmen to clarify matters to the media. The Hail police spokesman’s refusal to give a statement shows that there is some sort of obscurity.

Al-Anzi is Sawadi’s late husband’s nephew.  She argued that she considered him to be like a son and breast-fed him as a baby.  But the court denied the claim, stating that she had no evidence.

Arab News reports:

Lawyer Ibrahim Zamzami said if it was proved that the old woman is Al-Anzi’s foster mother through breast-feeding, then the charge of khulwa (illegal seclusion) would be nullified. But if his relation to her is only as his uncle’s wife then the charge would stand as she is eligible to marry him.

Sawadi and the two men were arrested on “suspicion of committing a sin.”

One lawyer  said that a 75-year-old woman is usually not considered seductive but because she is a woman, unrelated men should not remain alone with her. The lawyer explained that court rulings are based on “Shariah,” which does not differentiate between old and young.  Therefore, her age is not sufficient to remove suspicion.

So, this elderly woman is being lashed, imprisoned, and deported for asking her nephew to bring her five loaves of bread.  The woman had reportedly been arrested twice before, and had repeatedly asked neighbors to run errands for her after the death of her husband.  But the suspicion, apparently, is that she was having sex with her nephew and his friend!  And the only way to acquit her is to somehow prove that she breastfed Al-Anzi as a child.

Last month, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council urged Saudi Arabia to work to end human rights violations in the country, particularly those against women and children.  But prior to the UN Human Rights Council review,  Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, said:

The international community should ensure that its review of Saudi Arabia does not just produce more promises, leaving the Saudi people empty-handed….The Saudi reply to inquiries about rights violations or legal developments is typically total silence.

Human Rights watched published six reports about Saudi Arabia in 2008.  The reports examined: the criminal justice system, juvenile justice, the juvenile death penalty, women’s rights, migrant domestic workers, and the treatment of the Ismaili religious minority.  Human Rights Watch and other organizations are urging the international community to pressure the Saudi government to fulfill their promises of reforms.  But stories such as that of Khamisa Sawadi don’t exactly foster optimism.


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