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«Saudi Arabia HUMAN Denied Dignity RIGHTS Systematic Discrimination and Hostility toward WATCH Saudi Shia Citizens Denied Dignity Systematic ...»

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9 Human Rights Watch | September 2009 Pronouncements against the Shia as unbelievers contribute to what are regular restrictions the state imposes on their freedom to worship in spaces shared with Sunni worshipers, such as Mekka and Medina. For example, on August 5, 2007, Sayed AlQazwini, an American Shia, was praying in the Grand Mosque in Mekka when a member of the “religious police... was attacking the belief system of the Shia, stating that they are considered infidels... that the Shia worship the dead [and] stones and rocks,” he told the Al-Khoei foundation, a Shia institution named after a revered Iranian Shia scholar who lived in Iraq. The religious policeman told AlQazwini that “[y]ou are all cowards and we will purify the holy mosque from the Shia” before arresting him, AlQazwini said.25 In November 2005 the religious police briefly arrested an 82-year-old Saudi Ismaili man in Medina for carrying an Ismaili prayer book.26 In 2001, the religious police arrested Turki al-Turki, a Saudi Shia from Tarut in the Eastern Province, as he exited the mosque of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina, later charging him with insulting the companions of the Prophet. A Sunni judge in Qatif later convicted al-Turki of that charge, handing down a suspended sentence of 350 lashes and eight months in prison. In October 2006, as Shia-Sunni tension rose, the Ministry of Education suspended al-Turki, a teacher, from his work, and police arrested him in February 2007 to enforce the sentence.27 The Saudi Shia news website Rasid reported on March 5, 2009, that members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV, commonly referred to as the religious police) had obstructed Shia in their religious worship in Medina.28 Shia are not allowed to teach religion or history in schools.29 Among the episodes of discrimination and harassment against Shia students reported to Human Rights Watch, in 2006 Sunni teachers in schools in Ahsa’ called Shia students “unbelievers” on several occasions (students recorded such episodes on their cellphones);30 in April that year a Shia 25 Sayed AlQazwini, statement taken by the Al-Khoei Foundation, copy on file with Human Rights Watch. See also “Saudi Religious Police Accused of Beating Shi'ites,” Reuters, August 6, 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSL06164743 (accessed July 30, 2009).

26 Human Rights Watch interview with Husam, an Ismaili, Riyadh, February 25, 2006. The Ismailis are a distinct branch of Shiism. In Saudi Arabia they live predominantly in Najran province, on the border with Yemen.

27 Human Rights Watch interview with Turki al-Turki, Tarut, December 17, 2006, and telephone interview with al-Turki, February 15, 2007.

28 “Shia Youth Released in Medina and Qatif Reach Their Homes [ ‫اﻟﺸﺒﺎن اﻟﺸﻴﻌﺔ اﻟﻤﻔﺮج ﻋﻨﻬﻢ ﻓﻲ اﻟﻤﺪﻳﻨﺔ اﻟﻤﻨﻮرة واﻟﻘﻄﻴﻒ ﻳﺼﻠﻮن‬ ‫ ”,]ﻣﻨﺎزﻟﻬﻢ‬Rasid News Network, March 5, 2009, http://www.rasid.com/print.php?id=27325 (accessed June 25, 2009).

29 ICG, “The Shiite Question In Saudi Arabia,” http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3678. Human Rights Watch interview with Shia teacher, Eastern Province, December 2006, and with Shia teacher, Riyadh, February 2006. See also “Internal Circular Excludes Female Shia Teachers From Teaching Religious Subjects in Saudi [ ‫ﺗﻌﻤﻴﻢ داﺧﻠﻲ ﻳﻘﺼﻲ اﻟﻤﻌﻠﻤﺎت‬ ‫ ”,]اﻟﺸﻴﻌﻴﺎت ﻣﻦ ﺗﺪرﻳﺲ اﻟﻤﻮاد اﻟﺪﻳﻨﻴﺔ ﻓﻲ اﻟﺴﻌﻮدﻳﺔ‬Rasid News Network, October 30, 2007, http://rasid4.myvnc.com/artc.php?id=18927 (accessed November 15, 2007).

30 Human Rights Watch email communication with Eastern Province Shia, October 2006, including the recording.

Denied Dignity 10 student in Riyadh alleged that religious policemen arrested her following an argument she had about differences in Sunni and Shia Islam with a fellow Sunni student;31 and in March 2008 an Ismaili in Riyadh recounted how a Sunni teacher had called his daughter an unbeliever and expelled her from his class.32 In another egregious incident that was officially documented, a school in Ahsa’ on June 4, 2007, expelled for one year 15-year-old Khadija alSa’id for “trivializing any part of God’s word or any Islamic ritual,” for having made allegedly insulting remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.33 Shia face discrimination in the judiciary, too, ranging from denial of access to justice to arbitrary arrests and discriminatory verdicts. In February 2006 a judge in Khobar told a Shia worker whose Sunni boss had asked him to be a witness to his child’s wedding that he refused to accept him as a witness because of his Shia creed.34 In June 2009 a Sunni judge in Qatif sentenced a Shia man to three months in prison and 400 lashes for cursing God, based on allegations made by the man’s Sunni coworker; the judge used disparaging language about the Shia while sentencing this man.35 Shia to whom Human Rights Watch has spoken over the past four years almost universally allege (and many Sunnis aware of the situation of Shia agree) that false claims against Shia based on religiously motivated charges, such as cursing God, the Prophet, or his companions, are a staple of discriminatory acts against Shia.36 Saudi authorities at the Jordanian-Saudi border in Quraiyat in late 2008 detained Wafiqat alHazza’, a Shia woman from Ahsa’, as she was returning from Syria, for having a Shia prayer book in her possession. A court later sentenced her to six months for witchcraft and sorcery, but even her trial (the date of which is not clear) only took place after the intervention of the Saudi Human Rights Commission which started a judicial review of her case. She was released on June 23, 2009.37 31 Human Rights Watch interview with Hamza, a Riyadh Shia, December 2006. See also US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “International Religious Freedom Report – 2008, Saudi Arabia,” September 19, 2008, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2008/108492.htm, (accessed August 3, 2009).





32 Human Rights Watch interview with Ra’id, an Ismaili, Riyadh, March 15, 2008.

33 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Education, General Directorate of Girls Education in Ahsa’, Office of Director General, “Administrative Decision No. 2286 / 1,” June 4, 2007. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

34 Human Rights Watch interview with Siddiq, an Eastern Province Shia, February 2006.

35 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ibrahim, the Eastern Province Shia who was sentenced, June 24, 2009.

36 Human Rights Watch has documented similar cases in regards to the Ismaili religious minority in Saudi Arabia—see Human Rights Watch, The Isma’ilis of Najran, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/09/22/ismailis-najran-0, pp. 76-78. Human Rights Watch conversations with Saudi businessmen, members of the Shura Council, the appointed parliament, and human rights officials reveal their acute awareness of discrimination against Shia, coupled with a sense that this topic remains taboo and does not warrant political attention.

37 Human Rights Watch email communication with Burqan, an Eastern Province Shia, June 25, 2009.

11 Human Rights Watch | September 2009 Discrimination against Shia in the administration of justice is not limited to individual cases, but is built into the justice system. There are no Shia judges except for seven judges serving three Shia courts—two first instance courts in Qatif and Ahsa’, and an appeals court, also in Qatif. However, their jurisdiction is limited to personal status, inheritance, and endowments cases. In August 2005 a new royal decree significantly curtailed the already limited jurisdiction of the two Shia first instance courts, giving Sunni courts the authority to supervise the Shia courts and take up cases pending there.38 When, in September 2007, fears by the judges in the Shia courts that Sunni courts would use this provision to take over cases previously under Shia court jurisdiction on issues such as land inheritance became a reality, the Shia judges announced their intention to resign should amendments not be introduced. Following a brief period of suspension of work, they resumed their work without achieving any concessions.39 In other provisions of the new decree, only the regular Sunni courts would have jurisdiction over cases involving a dispute between two parties,40 and if one of the parties even in a non-disputed case was not a Shia, the Sunni courts would automatically have jurisdiction.41 State discrimination against the Shia stems from the official Wahhabi creed and is manifest in the state’s religiously infused education system, state sponsorship of official religious worship, and a judiciary which draws its legitimacy from Sunni Wahhabism. It is this umbrella of religiously legitimized or religion-infused state institutions under which prominent Islamic thinkers and clerics, often state officials, continue to propagate incitement to hostility against the Shia. The Saudi government tolerates such speech, sometimes even by silencing its critics:42 the government arrested Shia cleric Shaikh Tawfiq al-‘Amir on June 22, 2008, after he spoke out in a sermon he gave in Hofuf on June 11 against a May 30 statement signed by 22 prominent Saudi Wahhabi clerics, including Abdullah bin Jibrin, Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, and Nasir al-‘Umar, in which they called the “Shia sect an evil among the sects of the Islamic nation, and the greatest enemy and deceivers of the 38 Ministerial Decree 6194 based on the Royal Instruction 1828/Mim/Ba of June 23, 2004, “Executive Regulation for the Work of the Judge of Endowments and Inheritances and Notary Office [‫,”,]اﻟﻼﺋﺤﺔ اﻟﺘﻨﻔﻴﺬﻳﺔ ﻟﻌﻤﻞ ﻗﺎﺿﻲ اﻻوﻗﺎف واﻟﻤﻮارﻳﺚ و هﻴﺌﺔ اﻟﺘﺪﻗﻴﻖ‬ August 20, 2005, regulating the authority of the “Judge of the Court of Endowments and Inheritances” (a.k.a. the Shia court), arts. 10-14. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

39 “Conditions of Shea [sic.] Courts in Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia,” written analysis provided to Human Rights Watch by Isma’il, an Eastern Province Shia, October 15, 2007; and Human Rights Watch email communication with Isma’il, an Eastern Province Shia, October 30, 2007.

40 Ministerial Decree 6194, art. 9.

41 Ibid., arts. 10, 97, 117 (marriage), and 106 (divorce).

42 For the issue of intolerant statements against the Ismailis, see Human Rights Watch, The Ismailis of Najran, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/09/22/ismailis-najran-0.

Denied Dignity 12 Sunni people.”43 Of the 22 signatories, 11 are current government officials and 6 are former government officials.44 Early in 2008 another hardline cleric, Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’d, prohibited selling real estate to Shia in a fatwa, because “therein lies assistance to the [Shia] in bringing out their corrupt religion and their bad creed.”45 There was no official response to these well-publicized incidents.46 King Abdullah’s large delegation to the interfaith gathering in New York in November 2008, which he had initiated, reportedly contained no Saudi Shia.47 In February 2009 King Abdullah reshuffled the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, the most authoritative voice on interpreting state religious and judicial doctrine, appointing for the first time scholars versed in traditions other than the Hanbali school of jurisprudence adhered to by Wahhabi Sunnis.

However, he appointed no Shia of the Ja’fari school followed by Shia in the Eastern Province or of any other Shia schools, dashing the hopes of Shia for greater inclusion in religiojuridical affairs of the country.48 State practices of discrimination and exclusion toward Shia have created a sentiment of unequal citizenship. Few if any Shia manage to enroll in military training colleges or serve in the army, although Prince Khalid bin Sultan, deputy minister of defense, in June 2009 43 “Shaikh Tawfiq al-‘Amir Calls on the Government to Take Our Rights From Them,” Al-Ahsa Cultural Forum, June 15, 2008, http://www.alhsa.com/forum/showthread.php?t=93328 (accessed August 3, 2009). “Freedom for Shaikh Tawfiq al-‘Amir From Ahsa’,” Human Rights First in Saudi Arabia urgent appeal, June 23, 2008, http://www.anhri.net/saudi/spdhr/2008/pr0623.shtml (accessed August 3, 2009). The statement of 22 Saudi Wahhabi clerics can be found at http://www.islamlight.net/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=9770&Itemid=33 (accessed August 3, 2009). Ibn Jibrin, who died on July 13, 2009, was a government-appointed member of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars (see also chapter II, footnote 23, above) 44 The officials work as preachers, academics, teachers, religious police officers, senior government clerics, judicial officers, and medical administrators. Information on the background of the signatories compiled by Haitham, an Eastern Province Shia, August 8, 2009, at Human Rights Watch’s request.

45 Human Rights Watch email communication with Jamila, an Eastern Province Sunni, October 22, 2008.

46 Shaikh ‘Adil al-Kalbani, the government appointed imam of the Grand Mosque in Mekka, in a May 4, 2009 BBC Arabic television interview called Shia religious scholars “unbelievers,” causing particular ire among the Shia, who demanded an apology. The mosque is revered as a holy site by Muslims of all creeds and its imam is one of the highest official religious authorities in the kingdom. Human Rights Watch email communication with Siddiq, an Eastern Province Shia, May 19, 2009. A recording of the BBC program, with a third, overdubbed voice by an unseen speaker in addition to Shaikh ‘Adil’s and that of the BBC presenter, was previously at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svbgrydP0FQ, and was viewed in the course of researching this report, but at this writing is no longer available.

47 Human Rights Watch interview with journalists accompanying King Abdullah, New York, November 10-11, 2008. In June 2008 the Muslim World League, at King Abdullah’s initiative, held an interfaith meeting in Mekka, in which Saudi Shia participated. Shaikh Hasan al-Saffar, the spiritual leader of Saudi Shia, also participated in an interfaith conference convened at King Abdullah’s initiative in Madrid in July 2008. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Maytham al-Fardan, aide to Shaikh Hasan al-Saffar, August 5, 2009.

48 Abeer Allam, “Riyadh Confronts Growing Shia Anger,” Financial Times (London), March 25, 2009, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/62a879b6-1962-11de-9d34-0000779fd2ac.html?nclick_check=1 (accessed August 19, 2009).



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