Showing posts with label persecution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label persecution. Show all posts

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Quebec's Proposed Anti-Hate Speech Bill Is Cause For Concern


I run an atheist, perhaps even anti-theist blog, which would certainly be shut down in a country like Saudi Arabia or Turkey. In Saudi Arabia, they equate atheists with terrorists, while in Egypt atheism is considered a kind of extremism against Islam by authorities.

The Quebec government has tabled Bill 59An Act to enact the Act to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence and to amend various legislative provisions to better protect individuals. This sounds okay, but it's worrisome, because what can constitute hate speech is rather vague.
The Act provides for the prohibition of hate speech and speech inciting violence that are engaged in or disseminated publicly and that target a group of people sharing a common characteristic identified as prohibited grounds for discrimination under section 10 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms. Acting in such a manner as to cause such types of speech to be engaged in or disseminated is also prohibited. The Act introduces a procedure for reporting such speech to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse which includes measures for protecting people who report it, and grants the Commission new powers, including powers of investigation. The Commission is allowed to apply for a court order requiring such speech to cease. New responsibilities are therefore assigned to the Human Rights Tribunal, including the responsibility for determining whether a person has engaged in or disseminated such speech or acted in such a manner as to cause such acts to be committed and, if applicable, to determine the amount of the monetary penalties applicable. If the Tribunal concludes that a person has contravened those prohibitions, the person’s name is entered, for the time determined by the Tribunal, on a list kept by the Commission and available on the Internet. In addition, the Charter of human rights and freedoms is amended to introduce the prohibition against engaging in or disseminating such speech targeting an individual, thus rendering the reporting procedure under the Charter applicable.
In a previous post, I defined hate speech like this:
Now he's getting more flak because he went on television and said some stuff... energetically... well, sort of like someone targeting a specific a-religious minority. You know, it sort of sounded a little bit like a direct call to suppression of and/or violence towards a minority. I guess you might actually call it hate speech, if you're into that sort of thing.
Notice I tend to lean more on the side of inciting violence. I find it worrisome that the bill mentions both separately. I also find it worrisome that similar sorts of prohibition seem to be used in countries like Bangladesh to silence atheist bloggers - because their words apparently incite hate and violence.

There is already a law against hate speech here in Canada. Bill 59 adds extra teeth to this law. I would be able to make a clear decision about whether or not I'm for this law if someone could properly define hate speech for me. I've been looking around the stories concerning Bill 59 and I haven't really seen anything that lays out what hate speech is. It seems to be left to the discretion of the Quebec human rights commission.
But Bill 59 — “to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence” — would introduce a procedure for reporting hate speech to the Quebec human rights commission and would grant the commission new powers, including the power to investigate.
Essentially, the commission can act on a private complaint and themselves determine whether or not something constitutes hate speech.
But the legislation also faced a lot of criticism, notably for failing to define what “hate speech” is, and leaving it up to the human rights commission to decide how much proof it needs to sanction someone.

Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Voltaire could all be found to have incited violence and hatred, said Grey. Should they have been censored?

He and Latour argued that the Bill was dangerous and invasive. It allowed for anonymous complainants and a public list of those found guilty — forever available online.
In fact, the National Post makes an even more disturbing point:
Bill 59, on which consultations are to start next week, is far more worrisome. Bill 59 assigns new powers to the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) to combat hate speech, as well as a variety of other provisions meant to protect against extremism, by censoring speech that promotes “fear of the other.” Ominously, the bill would allow the QHRC to pursue websites that in its estimation describe and denounce Islamism.

The bill takes its inspiration from recommendations made public by the QHRC in November 2014. Jacques Frémont, the commission’s president, explained that he planned to use the requested powers to sue those critical of certain ideas, “people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page.”
This is very much not a good thing and it's very much like the situation in some countries I do not wish to live in.
Frémont is an unabashed legal activist, who sees the QHRC’s mandate as “provoking a social change” and “making the law.” (“You will make the law with difficult cases, risky cases,” he said at a March conference at the Université de Montréal.) In support of such stringent censorship he cites resolutions adopted by UN bodies. But the only UN body pressing for this measure is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an Islamist consortium that equates criticism of Islam with hate speech. The OIC’s member nations have nothing to teach any democratic society in the way of “inclusion,” “openness” and “living together,” all justifications for Bill 59 made by Premier Couillard.
I don't know how much of this concern is immediately legitimate, because I've actually agreed with Jacques Fremont when he came down hard on child welfare concerning the Lev Tahor case not long ago. Still, this illustrates an important point. Do we want to leave such an important definition to a commission? This is plenty of power to silence freedom of speech, in the interest of social harmony (like in Singapore) given to a small group.

Lots of minority groups realize that if such a commission is to have such power to determine what's hate and what's not, they had better get on the group or at least help define the parameters.
Some groups are upset that they were not invited to speak at the National Assembly during the hearings. Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said he was alarmed because the current list fails to illustrate the diversity of Quebec.

“It is missing all of the groups,” Majzoub said. “They are Quebecers at the end of the day, but we don’t hear from them at all.”

Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, says his organization has launched a special request to be heard. He is concerned that the hearings fail to include minorities who are often the targets of hate speech.
I hope groups like CFI Canada and Atheist Freethinkers also manage to get into this discussion, since I worry that their own websites might someday be shut down by an over-zealous commission.

I'm very worried indeed.

In the end, I want to make it clear that I do not condone violence or discrimination against any minority group - whether they be religious or atheist or any other protected class. It's a good idea on paper, but how can we properly implement such a thing without interfering with people's right to expression? In a civil society, everyone needs the right to criticize the ideas and beliefs of everyone else - this is how a democracy works.

(Image source)

Friday, 24 July 2015

Declaring Christianity Liberia's National Religion Risks Destabilizing Entire Country


There's a fascinating piece over at Think Progress about the perilous situation Liberia finds itself in as some local Christian groups there are fighting to have the country declared a Christian Nation.
In April, lawmakers successfully proposed a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would reinstate Christianity as the official state religion. This attempt follows Christian leaders’ fruitless efforts in 2013 to submit a similar petition to lawmakers in the Liberian House and Senate.
Christian groups - and apparently the vast majority of Liberians - seem to want this to happen. However, minority religious groups in the country are calling for secularism and no state endorsement of any religion.
Now that it’s in President Sirleaf’s hands, the proposal could appear on a national referendum next year — a possibility that troubles Liberian followers of Islam who are concerned about the advent of state-sanctioned persecution and marginalization.

Earlier this year, protesters converged on the site of a constitutional conference to demand the constitution remain unchanged. “Liberia is not for Christians. Liberia is not for Muslims. Liberia is for everybody. We don’t want Liberia to be for only one group of people,” protest leader Hajah Swaray told the Anadolu news agency. “It would not be fair to see one group marginalized. We have 16 tribes in Liberia. Some people are Muslims, while others are Bahai or embrace traditional religions. Let’s just live as we are.”
The article goes on to point out that increased tribal and ethnic tension - presumably also religious conflict - has preceded both gruesome civil wars in the country.

It's a fascinating read and shows how secularism is something which ought to be sought after by not only atheists, but the religious as well.

(Image source)

Friday, 27 March 2015

Stephen Harper Refusing to Say Anything In Defense of Jailed Saudi Blogger

Raif Badawi
More news about Raif Badawi and the effort of citizens of the free world to free him. Okay, the effort of many money-hungry governments and corporations to avoid mentioning him ever.

How about our own Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- brave captain of industry who recently let once proud Canada drift out of the UN's list of top ten developed countries. Yeah, that Stephen Harper.

After years of pleading by Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, Amnesty International, the Montreal government and the Quebec National Assembly, NDP leader Thomas Mulclair was apparently able to corner slippery Steve and asked him point blank to comment on Badawi's case.
Le chef de l'opposition officielle, Thomas Mulcair, s'est adressé à Stephen Harper en le questionnant sur « l'intervention timide du Canada pour exiger la libération de Raïf Badawi ». Le chef du NPD, qui était présent à Sherbrooke lundi, a rencontré Ensaf Haidar, l'épouse de Raïf Badawi afin d'en apprendre davantage sur la situation qu'elle et sa famille vivent.
« J'espérais qu'avec la question de Thomas Mulcair, le Premier ministre se lève et demande haut et fort la libération de M. Badawi devant les Canadiens. Cependant il a réitéré sa position timide et a aussitôt changé de sujet », a déploré le député fédéral de Sherbrooke, Pierre-Luc Dusseault.
The leader of the official opposition, Thomas Mulclair, addressed himself to Stephen Harper by questioning him on "the timid intervention of Canada on behalf of Raif Badawi's liberation." The NDP leader, who was present in Sherbrooke on Monday, met with Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi in order to learn more about the situation her and her family are living through.

"I was hoping that with Thomas Mulclair's question, the Prime Minister would stand up and demand loud and clear the liberation of Mr. Badawi before Canadians. Instead, he reiterated his timid position and changed the subject as soon as he could," Pierre-Luc Dusseault, MP Sherbrook recounded disparagingly.
This is hardly surprising for this Conservative Prime Minister who knows we've got money tied up in lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Just look what happened in Sweden when their Foreign Minister stood up to the Saudis. Could you imagine what would happen if a Prime Ministers grew a spine and a respect for human rights which couldn't be bought off with oil money and slave (trapped foreign worker) labour?

Speaking of the Swedes, some 30 of the nation's business elite wrote an open letter to their liberal, progressive, human rights loving government asking them to swallow ethics and value of human rights -- because, you know, money. I'm sure the corporations got our backs.

Meanwhile, the first letter from Raif Badawi since his 2012 imprisonment made it out. It's due to be printed on Saturday in Der Spiegel.  In it, Raif gives us some insight into the hell he's experiencing -- all for blogging. I'll post on that as soon as I get a chance to see it myself.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Saudi Authorities Tackling 'Extremism' In Schools


When you've got a country with a special police force for raiding florist shops on Valentine's Day, and it arrests Christians -- including children, and it throws bloggers into jail for simply stating that everyone should have access to free speech, and it has a crack squad of witch police to round up witches and people who use magic so they might be routinely beheaded, and said country claims to be tackling extremism -- well, it's really time to take notice at precisely what the hell they consider to be 'extremism!'

recent story in the Saudi Gazette recounts how authorities in the Kingdom are meeting to explore how to protect schools from extremism -- which comes from education!
EXTREMISM, a pioneer school investor said, has unfortunately been a product of education. Therefore, he said, there must be a comprehensive pre-admission observation of individuals at pedagogical colleges which prepare them to be future teachers.
At first I thought they're just threatened by secular, freethought education (they are). However, they also seem to be talking about fundamentalist religion -- which is ironic because as a country, they are hard to beat on that department.
There is a trend now, said experts among youth. This trend, they said, has two extremes. While a group pushes toward extremism in religion, others push their extremism to atheism
When it came to radical religion in educationI thought of the very real risk of religious extremist schools all over. Just last year, six schools were identified in the UK as being too radically Islamic and just recently, a whole village just outside Montreal was discovered to have nothing but extreme Orthodox Jewish teachings which ill-equipped students for the real world.

When it came to secularism in education, I thought of places like Sweden or Japan. It's hard for me to figure out what the threat is.

Not to hard in Saudi Arabia, where atheism has been classified as terrorism! The story specifies that terrorism tied to Islam is only extremist Islam -- it made no reference to what sort of atheism it is that compels atheist terrorists. I guess any atheism does.

Here is, apparently, how this understanding of extremism first manifests itself.
Farida Farsi spoke to Saudi Gazette about encouragement earlier accorded to students bragging about their efforts in smashing a television set at home, or cutting what they believe is indecent clothes of their mothers and other female family members.
Right, that sounds like extremist or radical religion to me. It's unlikely a radical atheist would do this. Apparently essential teachings of Islam (tm) will resolve this. Furthermore, if the person has swung too far into religion or too far outside, one religious scholar believes that a little negotiation will help.
Ali Badahdah, a religious scholar, said that based on his observations and review of some 22 studies conducted on extremist individuals, various efforts to negotiate with them have provided positive effect. He said nothing stands impossible and these people can still have room to come back and change their views.
I wonder if the negotiation with a young atheist might go something like this?:

Scholar: Are you an atheist?
Atheist: Yes.
Scholar: This means you're a terrorist and you'll be killed by the state. Are you still an atheist?
Atheist: No.

Given the country's atrocious record on human rights and freedom of expression and their brutal suppression of any religion other than Islam as well as atheists, I find this part of the article the punchline.
This, she said, is seen as each person does not accept anything other than his/her own thoughts. “We have to focus on accepting others as they are and seek happiness for all.

Al-Harthi believes that the national dialogue is an achievement as it provides a platform for people coming from different backgrounds and carrying different believes to sit at the same table and respect each others’ views.
You mean so long as everyone's point of view matches state-sanctioned religious beliefs and opinions? Right. Keep working on that because you have a long long way to go.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

All This Fawning Over Late Saudi King Is Making Me Sick

Late Saudi King Abdullah (source)
Right, so this pisses me off. It really makes my stomach turn.

Vision? Indeed, the bar must be very very low for Kerry. John McCain, presumably a good Christian extends his deepest condolences to the Saudi people on the passing of their king -- who stood by while Christians were persecuted.
In McCain's release:
“I extend my deepest condolences to the people of Saudi Arabia on the passing of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud. King Abdullah was an important voice for reform in Saudi Arabia. He pushed for the modernization of the education system, curbed the authority of the religious police, and extended women the right to vote and run in municipal elections. He was also a vocal advocate for peace, speaking out against violence in the Middle East and standing as a critical partner in the war on terror. King Abdullah’s enduring legacy will continue to shape the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region for years to come.
Except for the fact that this religious police throws anyone suspected of blasphemy into jail and lashes them 1,000 times, jails their lawyer for 15 years, jails women for driving, beheads more people than ISIS -- even suspected witches! They even raid florist shops for carrying the colour red on Valentines Day. With pushes for modernization like this, Saudi Arabia ought to catch up with the 20th century sometime in the 22nd -- if all goes well.

The Huffington Post discusses how Saudi King Abdullah Was A Reformer, But Not A Very Good One.  Well, at least his country produced a lot of oil, had a lot of money and bought a lot of weapons from western countries designed for crowd control -- yes, at least they had that going for them.

How about the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (naturally) -- herself a woman -- praising the king on what a fantastic job he did sticking up for the rights of women!
The British are so sad they are flying their flags half mast!

Is this just money speaking? What am I missing here? Am I on the same planet? Am I the only one who finds this deeply disturbing and nausea inducing? Here's a nice little graphic from Middle East Eye:


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Raif Badawi's Second Lashing Delayed Again This Week & Saudi King Dead

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
Amnesty International reports that Saudi physicians have found Raif Badawi to be still unfit for a second course of lashes.
The planned flogging of Raif Badawi is likely to be suspended this Friday after a medical committee assessed that he should not undergo a second round of lashes on health grounds. The committee, comprised of around eight doctors, carried out a series of tests on Raif Badawi at the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah yesterday and recommended that the flogging should not be carried out.
His initial barbaric fifty lashings along with years in jail already and diabetes on top of it all -- which can compromise the body's ability to fight infection --  have likely taken their toll.

Although, I cannot help but think that this sudden concern, along with a recent move by the king to forward the case back to the Supreme Court for a second look, may actually have more to do with it. I mean, this is a kingdom that beheads people for witchcraft!

Visit the Amnesty International webpage Five Ways You Can Help Raif Badawi to keep this pressure on.

Speaking of the king of Saudi Arabia forwarding Badawi's case to the Supreme Court:  Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah dies
"His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1am this morning," the statement said.
So,  Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Abdullah's brother, is now king -- the new leader because: they came from the same womb. You can tell I despise the whole idea of monarchy, right?

I wonder what impact, if any, this will have on Raif's case.
Al Jazeera referred to Prince Salman's views reported in a 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable.  Salman said that "the pace and extent of reforms depend on social and cultural factors, ... that for social reasons—not [religious] reasons—reforms cannot be imposed by the [Saudi government] or there will be negative reactions, ... [and] that changes have to be introduced in a sensitive and timely manner." According to the cable, he said that "democracy should not be imposed" in Saudi Arabia, since the country "is composed of tribes and regions and if democracy were imposed, each tribe and region would have its political party."
Well, that doesn't sound promising.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Saudi King Requests Supreme Court Re-Assess Raif Badawi's Case

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
Breaking news from the BBC that the office of Saudi king Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz has referred the case of jailed blogger Raif Badawi back to the country's Supreme Court for another look.
The case of a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes has been referred to the Supreme Court by the king's office, the BBC has learned.

Blogger Raif Badawi's wife said the decision had given him hope that the authorities want to end his punishment.
Raif was supposed to receive his second round of lashings today but officials apparently postponed this due to medical reasons. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a 260,000$ fine for running a liberal website.

Several online petitions to the king have received dozens of thousands of signatures on his behalf. Furthermore, countries like Canada, UK and US have denounced the flogging and asked for his immediate release. Are the Saudis maybe feeling a little embarrassed now?

That's about as much as we know for now. I will make updates to this post if more information comes through. 

Saudi Officials Postpone Raif Badawi's Flogging For Medical Reasons

Screen capture from video believed to be Badawi receiving his first 50 lashes last Friday. (source)
Just an hour or so ago, a news report came out that Raif Badawi will not be flogged 50 times today for medical reasons.
"The doctor concluded that the wounds had not yet healed properly and that he would not be able to withstand another round of lashes at this time," Amnesty International said.

"He recommended that the flogging should be postponed until next week. It is unclear whether the authorities will fully comply with this demand."
Utterly brutal. When I first read the headline, I feared that Badawi's life was truly at risk. His wife has said before that his health is poor and that his diabetes was not being properly treated.  There is a severe risk of infection from the deep wounds caused by flogging.

This comes after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird finally did the decent thing of denouncing the flogging less than a week after Andrew Bennett did the same. I actually never thought I would see this ever happen because they seemed pretty hellbent on staying silent. I always expected it had something to do with money.

Check out my previous posts on how you may be able to help Raif.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

RT Coverage of Raif Badawi Lashing

Interview on the RT program In The Now. (source)
There's a good interview with secular activist Alishba Zarmeen on RT's In The Now program. Alishba is a friend of Raif Badawi and provides some insight about how much of a challenge it will be for free speech activists in Saudi Arabia to make any sort of headway when the population itself is either ignorant or afraid to wake up and take back their human rights.


Canadian Atheist blogger Veronica Abbass has also sent me this excellent link to two Amnesty International petitions in support of Raif. The English one has over 40,000 signatures while its French equivalent has over 20,000 signatures.

She also points out that today is Raif's 31st birthday, which is being spent in a jail cell, his wounds no doubt still bleeding. Why not sign the petitions in support of Raif on his birthday? It seems like the least we can do, right?

Raif Badawi's Wife Interviewed on CNN

Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar on CNN interview. (source)
Here is an excellent CNN story which contains portions of an interview Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who now resides in Quebec with their children.

I found this embeddable Youtube video of the interview, but if this is pulled down later, go to the original source.


It also references the grotesque double standard of Saudi Arabia publicly condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris while they jail and torture bloggers for merely questioning religion within their own borders.
I know I've been writing about Saudi Arabia incessantly lately, but they're just so flagrantly anti-free-expression that I cannot help it.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Another Saudi Blogger in Jail


News is beginning to trickle out that another Saudi blogger has been jailed for posting distorted Quran verses to Twitter.
Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice seized the Saudi man, in his 20s, in his hometown of Tabuk in northwest Saudi Arabia, the Arabic language daily ‘Sabq’ said.

“He distorted Quran verses and posted them on his Twitter page after describing himself as an atheist,” Commission spokesman Sheikh Abdullah Al Amiri said.

No word yet on his name. Apparently, he has already agreed to repent. No matter, they will apparently begin processing him through their legal system.

Could this be another Raif Badawi?

This Cartoon Expresses It All

Here's a cartoon by Palestinian Ramzy Taweel which sums things up nicely. As one of my bosses used to say: Same shit, different pile.

(source)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Raif Badawi's Wife to be Interviewed on CNN Today

Ensaf Haidar (source)
Just a quick announcement that Ensaf Haidar -- whose husband Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, a $260,000 fine and 10 years in Saudi prison for running a liberal website -- is scheduled to appear on CNN today around 12:30pm.

Raif received his first 50 lashes yesterday despite Saudi Arabia being condemned by both the United States and Canada just the day before. Ensaf has managed to leave Saudi Arabia and is living here in Quebec with their three children.

I don't get CNN, so I'll have to count on you guys to watch it for me and point me to some video.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Courageous Raif Badawi Held His Hand Up In 'Victory Symbol'

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)

Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist blog found a tweet showing just how brave Raif Badawi is.

Despite the severe beating, Raif Badawi did not flinch; he held the victory symbol and guard had to hold his hand down.
So far, there is no video of this. Here is a video purported to be onlookers rushing to witness the beating. I honestly wonder why anyone would rush to see such a thing.


According to one tweet, here is the mosque before which the heinous lashing was administered.

Hemant also found this lovely cartoon by Kuwaiti cartoonist Abdul Wahab Al Awadhi. It seems like cartoons are a poignant means of expression against those who wish to squash freedom of speech.

If you would like to speak up for Badawi, I would strongly recommend you call the Saudi embassy of your country directly. Here are instructions about how to do this here in Canada (bottom).

You should also consult the Amnesty International page on Badawi for more information about how to help! This includes writing letters to the Saudi government, Western politicians and raising public awareness (our best bet, I think.)

Raif Badawi Publicly Flogged Today. US & Canada Condemn Action.

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received his first 50 lashes today for blogging something on his liberal website his tyrannical government didn't like. He is due to receive another 19 floggings of 50 lashes.
The flogging took place outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after Friday prayers, witnesses said.

AFP news agency, quoting people at the scene, said Mr Badawi arrived at the mosque in a police car and had the charges read out to him in front of a crowd.

He was then made to stand with his back to onlookers and whipped, though he remained silent, the witnesses said.
Yes, just outside the mosque after Friday prayers. Absolutely horrendous.

Philip Luther of Amnesty International was quoted condemning this brutal censorship of freedom of expression:
"It is horrifying to think that such a vicious and cruel punishment should be imposed on someone who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression,'' Philip Luther of Amnesty International told AP.
Yesterday afternoon I reported that our own Office of Religious Freedom condemned this action. I noted just how difficult it has been to get Canada to say one word against the Saudis.
It seems like multiple human rights groups have had to climb mountains to get to this point. This part is unfortunate, but Andrew Bennett has gone a ways to redeem himself in my eyes. It's literally the last minute, but I suppose there could have been other efforts going on behind the scenes and now they're going public because those have gone nowhere -- well, I'd like to believe that at least.
It turns out that the United States also issued a condemnation of sorts yesterday as well, also at the last minute.
We are greatly concerned by reports that human rights activist Raif Badawi will start facing the inhumane punishment of a 1,000 lashes, in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion. The United States Government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence. The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of these freedoms, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice.
Hemant Mehta acknowledged this on his blog but was not too impressed with the timing nor the lack of true bite in the statement (emphasis mine).
Too little, too late, I fear. It’s easy to write a short statement from afar. There’s no indication that anyone in the State Department did anything tangible to put a stop to this cruel punishment, and a half-heart statement of concern won’t do much for his family. It’s possible that an attempt at resolution would have been rebuffed by the Saudis, but if we don’t even try, what hope can we place in our government?
Although the Canadian statement seems more strongly worded, the situation here is essentially identical to in the United States -- although it's obvious our government would have less sway with the Saudis than the Americans would. 

Although it is indeed the easiest of actions to simply put something out on a website condemning this, here in Canada at least it's been like pulling teeth trying to get our government to officially condemn this flagrant human rights abuse. So my excitement yesterday was mostly because the bar was so low. In the end, with Saudi oil and the vast military purchases they are making from the US, UK and Canada, I wonder if this could be the best we'll get from our government.

If you would like to speak up for Badawi, I would strongly recommend you call the Saudi embassy of your country directly. Here are instructions about how to do this here in Canada (bottom).

You should also consult the Amnesty International page on Badawi for more information about how to help! This includes writing letters to the Saudi government, Western politicians and raising public awareness (our best bet, I think.)

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Raif Badawi to Receive Lashes Tomorrow

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
Editor's Note 2015-01-08: Canada Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Officially Condemns Saudi Treatment of Raif Badawi 

Urgent news about imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi came today via his wife Ensaf Haidar, who is living now in Sherbrooke, Quebec. You can see the announcement on Facebook.


CFI Canada has confirmed this on their site as well:
January 8, 2015:  CFI Canada has received information from Ensaf Haidar that her husband, Raif Badawi, is expected to receive lashes on January 9.  Ms. Haidar informs CFIC that “the lashing order says Raif should be lashed severely”.  Raif Badawi was imprisoned for insulting islam by the Saudi government.

CFI Canada condemns the Saudi government for it’s barbaric and horrifying intention to torture Raif Badawi.   Kevin Smith, CFI Canada’s Chair said, ” It is terrible and horrifying that one day after the murders of people at Charlie Hebdo, a person will receive 1000 lashes for expressing his thoughts on a blog."
A couple of technicalities. I was before under the impression that the lashings had commenced already and that it would be delivered 50 lashes at a time over 20 weeks. It now appears that tomorrow will be the start date and he is due for 50 severe lashes for blogging! This is inexcusable.

If you would like to speak up for Badawi, I would strongly recommend you call the Saudi embassy of your country directly. Here are instructions about how to do this here in Canada (bottom).

You should also consult the Amnesty International page on Badawi for more information about how to help!

Here in Canada, we need to send a clear message to our government that they should denounce blasphemy laws across the world and strike down our own remaining blasphemy laws! CFI Canada is calling on our government to do this -- more on this in a future post.
CFIC urges Canadians to express their outrage and condemnation to the Government of Canada.  Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director of CFI Canada said, “Freedom of speech is under threat by religious extremists.  Faith-based terrorists are attacking and killing journalists and cartoonists while governments use cruel blasphemy laws to torture their citizens.  It is time the Canadian government actively opposed blasphemy laws and the brutality and violence they precipitate.  The Canadian government should start by calling for the immediate release of Raif Badawi and by abandoning Canada’s own blasphemy law, Criminal Code Section 296.”
I've been very frustrated with our government's apparent blindness to the monstrous human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps they will not be able to ignore the problem now.

- Thanks to Canadian Atheist's Veronica Abbass for bringing this to my attention.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Saudi Top Cleric Totally Okay With Marrying Little Girls

Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh and his pencil. (source)
We all know that Saudi Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh has already sagely warned his country's youth that Twitter is the source of all evil.  He also knows why 13% of all students at a major Saudi university are apparently atheists. Well, now he's standing up for men who want to marry little girls under 15 and the girls who want... no, wait, nobody seems to care what the girls want -- what was I thinking!?!
Manama: Saudi Arabia’s efforts to edge closer to setting a minimum age for marriage have received a blow after the Grand Mufti said there was nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married.

“There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh said, quoted by local daily Al Riyadh on Sunday.
This little piece of horrible came swooping down to shut down an effort by the justice ministry -- who may have been desperately trying to bring some sort of decency to this system... under the radar. 

But the ministry's cover's been blown. Now it seems like the judiciary must bow down the country's most powerful religious authority.
Two years ago, it submitted an integrated study on the negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages to religious scholars and requested a fatwa that sets a minimum age.
The authors of the study have not responded to the Mufti's comment and it seems like their little rebellion of reason has been quashed -- would you expect them to stand up to this guy in a country like this?

At first, the proposals sound like a step closer to some sort of saner, more secular system where people actually concern themselves with the safety of the bride.
Changes that the justice ministry wants to reinforce include mentioning the age of the bride and groom in the marriage contract to ensure there are no abuses and the bride is at least 15 years old.

The ministry said that only competent courts could endorse the marriage of a bride less than 15 years old after judges make certain that specific conditions are fulfilled.
If only it were so! It goes downhill from here. Apparently, competent courts could allow child brides only after specific conditions are fulfilled. So maybe the Mufti is doing us all a favour by shutting this apparently weak plan down?

If a child bride is allowed, it is recommended that no intercourse be permitted until the bride has been given sufficient time to prepare psychologically and train for family requirements! Like some sort of slave, I guess. How about letting the girl grow up into an adult who can make adult decisions like getting married! But then, why burden a woman with such tough decisions, right?

The father must also procure a report proving that the bride is not physically or mentally at risk -- whatever that means. I think that if my parents chose my spouse, I might very well be mentally at risk. I wonder what depression rates are for these brides.

Reasonable human rights groups have been pushing for a minimum age requirement in Saudi Arabia for awhile now. 
They recommended the consent of both the bride and her mother as a sine qua non condition to go ahead with the wedding plans and called on judges to make sure that the bride would not be harmed in any way by the marriage.
You know, human rights of the bride and the mother. Last time I checked, women were humans too.

Pretty disgusting, Mufti.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Saudi Activists Sent to 'Terrorist Court' For Driving Car & Improperly Tweeting

Saudi women's driving rights activists Lujain Al-Hathloul and Maysaa Al-Amodi. (source)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how absurd it was for two Saudi women, Lujain Al-Hathloul and Maysaa Al-Amodi to be arrested, detained and jailed for over a month for driving a vehicle into their own country. Well, things have gotten worse.

They will stand trial under charges of terrorism!
On Thursday, a court in al-Ahsa, in the east of the country, ruled that the women should be tried at a specialised court in Riyadh that was established to deal with terrorism cases.
I invite you to wait a few minutes, perhaps breathe a deeply a few times and let the insanity of this sink in. Two women, with licenses, no weapons on them, driving back to their own countries apparently pose an imminent threat to Saudi society -- enough to warrant a terrorism charge.

Okay, it turns out that they are being charged for things they wrote online.  If this were the case then it would be similar to Raif Badawi's situation, a blogger who got 1,000 lashes, a ten year jail sentence and quarter million dollar fine for questioning the government.
Those close to Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, said the women are not being charged for defying the driving ban but for opinions they voiced online. They declined to elaborate on the specific charges due to the sensitivity of the case. All spoke anonymously for fear of government reprisal.
As mentioned before, these two activists have Twitter followings of over 350,000 combined. The Saudi government is utterly silent on this matter.

Meanwhile, our freedom loving Canadian government could have its mouth too stuffed with Saudi riyals, after being too long at the trough, to offer any comments whatsoever on this flagrant abuse of human rights -- them and the rest of the so-called democratic western world. 

Who will help them? Perhaps only the youth of this kingdom can? Their trial is obviously meant to set an example and dissuade other young activists, but are we near a tipping point where such an action could have an opposite effect?
#Free_Loujain_Mayssaa (source)

Monday, 8 December 2014

Two Saudi Driving Activists Will Be Detained For Another 25 Days

Saudi feminist activist Loujain Hathloul. (source: Twitter)
What happens if you're a woman and you try driving your car into your own country? Nothing much, unless you happen to be Saudi. Then you'll be arrested, detained and silenced for who knows how long.

Well, news is that Lujain Al-Hathloul and Maysaa Al-Amodi will be held for another 25 days -- at least. They've already been detained since December 1st... for driving.
Human Rights Watch said both women were then detained apparently for driving, though it is not clear if they will face criminal charges.

Al-Amoudi said authorities notified the family on Sunday that they were extending her sister's detention another 25 days. They did not provide the legal reasons for holding her.

Al-Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles and al-Amoudi is in a prison. The women have been interrogated without the presence of an attorney, but were allowed to see relatives and speak to relatives on the phone.
The Saudi government has decided not to comment on the situation.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Saudi Activists Arrested & Detained For Driving Automobiles

Saudi women's driving rights activists Lujain Al-Hathloul and Maysaa Al-Amodi. (source)
Remember a couple of days ago I posted about Saudi activist Lujain Al-Hathloul, who is protested the ridiculous Saudi ban on women drivers by obtaining her license in the United Arab Emirates and then attempted to re-enter her country by car? Last we heard, she had her passport seized and was being held at the border, but she was still tweeting her situation to her 200,000 followers.

Well, I guess I knew something was up when I checked on her Twitter feed this morning and saw no updates at all for December 2nd.

My unease was confirmed when the Gulf Center for Human Rights announced that she has been arrested and is now being held along with a fellow activist, Maysaa Al-Amodi, who attempted to drop off some supplies for her.

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