Monday, October 18, 2010
Ms Samar Badawi--A Kafkaesque Case of Father-Adult Daughter Abuse in Saudi Arabia
Samar Badawi is a 29-year-old divorced woman with an 8-year-old son, who has worked previously in a beauty salon to support them both. She is originally from Jeddah where she now resides--in jail.
Samar's life has been coloured by violence and abuse from her father, which became intolerable after her mother's death from cancer when she was 13. At 14, she ran away from home a number of times, attempting to live instead with her uncles. Her father's threats and legal actions against her and her uncles resulted in her being returned home again and again to her father.
She married, and had a son. During the time of her marriage, her drug addicted father continued to interfere in her life, took all her savings, and bullied her husband until he was obliged to divorce her. After her divorce, she lived with her brother.
Once again, her father threatened and took legal action so that she was forced to seek protection in a women's shelter. She did so with the support of Prince Mishaal bin Majed, Governor of Jeddah Province. While there for 18 months, her grandfather, uncles, and brother all testified to the abusiveness of her father. The latter had her charged with filial disobedience, but because of the father's illnesses and behaviours, she was acquitted.
Samar petitioned to have her father removed as her guardian, given that he was unfit. He had been jailed for fighting, including participation in a gun fight. Samar then petitioned Prince Mishaal bin Majed for his support and protection for her to return to live with her son in her brother's home. The Prince agreed, and sent a letter to the Jeddah police ordering protection of both Samar and her brother from her father's actions.
However, the suits and countersuits were not yet finished. Samar's father appealed to Judge Abdullah Al-Othaim filing another grievance of filial disobedience against Samar. At the initial hearing the Judge ordered Samar to return to her father's home which she refused to do, in a bid to protect herself. However the Judge threatened her with imprisonment and flogging. At this point Samar returned to the women's shelter for protection.
She failed to appear in court twice, whereupon Judge Othaim ordered her arrested for disobedience towards her father, even though there was proven abuse, and the charges she had filed against him in that case did not constitute disobedience according to Saudi law (Resolution 1900). To avoid arrest, Samar fled the women's shelter, and hid from her father as well. She sought the protection and intercession of Prince Khaled Al Faisal, Governor of Makkah Province, who granted it.
During this time, Samar had received further marriage proposals, all of which her father refused, meaning he remained her guardian. She filed a complaint of preventing marriage against him. Knowing she risked arrest according to Judge Othaim's order, she appeared in court to testify against her father, and was arrested on leaving the courthouse, and has been imprisoned since April 2010.
Despite this, she did appear to testify against her father in the second hearing about his preventing her marriage. The judge there found in her favour, and her father's case against her was held until further investigation could be made. However, Judge Othaim left her in prison, claiming that the paper work about her appeal of this imprisonment had gone missing.
The reasons for Samar's escape from both the shelter and her father were investigated and upheld, given that it was proven her father had threatened her with death, forced her to give him money and beaten her. It was decided to follow through with the plan of Prince Khalid Al Faisal for an attempted reconciliation, and that if that failed she could live on social welfare.
Prince Khalid Al Faisal completed a report, and attempted a reconciliation which Samar's father refused, as well as refusing his permission for her to remarry. When the envoy communicated this to Samar in prison, she insisted on her right to marry as she wished. That is when she learned that her father was asking for 200,000 SR to grant his permission for marriage.
During the month of Ramadan, Samar contacted Judge Othaim from prison, asking him how much time she still needed to serve. He replied emphasizing his judicial power and the necessity of her bending to his will.
The Supreme Council of Justice has opened an investigation into Samar's case which is still in progress. Samar's uncles have petitioned for her release to their guardianship, only to be told by Judge Othaim that her father is her rightful guardian, and she deserves imprisonment.
Samar is currently in Breiman Prison in Jeddah, and hasn't seen her son in 6 1/2 months, even though there has been no judicial ruling against her. She awaits Prince Khaled Al Faisal's further efforts and the ruling of an appeal court on the case against her father for obstructing her marriage.
Ironically, even the best efforts of family, the Saudi protective system, and royal supporters have not been enough to protect this courageous woman, and the men who do love her appropriately, from an abusive father, and an ideologically (mis-)guided judge, who wishes to uphold conservatism, patriarchal religious interpretations, and tribalism even where most often those 3 belief systems would find a better solution than this one.
As it stands now, Samar is being held indefinitely in jail, because even after any sentence is served she can only be released if her legal guardian, her father, chooses to allow it. He doesn't. If he did, she would be required to return to live with him as her legal guardian, according to Judge Al-Othaim.
The Legal Background
In most cases of father-daughter domestic abuse around the world, one looks for ways to protect the child or adolescent, and counts the days to the "age of emancipation", that is, of adulthood, so that the young person may be free of the abusive parent or any threat to be returned to that parent's reign of terror.
In the West, the "age of emancipation" is between 16 and 18, often 16 under special circumstances, and 18 under normal situations. At 16, in Canada, an adolescent can, with the support of school, medical personnel, and social workers, petition to be allowed to live alone, and provided for by the state, so that they may complete at least high school. At 18, an adolescent is legally an adult, with the same rights and responsibilities as other adults, and legally parent-free.
In most Muslim majority countries, adulthood has a similar legal configuration for both men and women. A "mahrem" or legal male guardian for a woman has only a role in marriage contracts, for a woman's first marriage. The mahrem, usually the father, voices the woman's consent to make the marriage legal. Otherwise, women are legally responsible for themselves; even if they have fewer rights than men in some aspects of family law.
In Saudi Arabia, women never achieve legal adulthood, free of a male guardian, or mahrem, who has inordinate powers to determine all aspects of her life no matter her age, accomplishments, or competencies. Her wishes to study, work, travel, own a business, participate in recreation, go outside of the house, all legally require the permission of her mahrem. This is usually her father until she marries, then her husband. In cases of divorce or widowhood, the father again becomes the mahrem, and if he has passed on, the oldest brother. At times another senior male biological family member would be the mahrem, or a not so senior one. For example, a widow's or a divorcee's 18-year-old son could become her mahrem.
Most often, in ideal or even relatively normal situations, conflict between father and daughter, guardian and child, is resolved through their efforts, the mediation of family members, and other socially important agents (friends, teachers, physicians, religious counselors, etc), without recourse to legalities. This is true in Saudi Arabia, as elsewhere. Sadly though, when those usual mechanisms fail, and one must fall back on the law, the legal system becomes the most determinant factor in the outcome.
In the situation of father-daughter abuse in Saudi Arabia, that legal system will fall back on the father's privileges and rights no matter the age of the daughter, as long as she is not married. However, there are provisions for revoking a particular father's guardianship due to proven mental incompetence and abuse.
In the past, judges had immense latitude in determining any case before them, and often did so based on extremely conservative tribal interpretations of religious beliefs. King Abdullah has worked towards greater codification of Saudi law, with significant efforts to improve the quality, professionalism, and competency of the judiciary; and, specifically, the King has created a family safety programme (2005), while his daughter Princess Adela bint Abdullah has urged women to report abuse and seek redress through the courts. As a result of these efforts, women are filing more abuse complaints, and domestic violence is becoming somewhat less stigmatizing against the abused.
Nonetheless, older members of the judiciary, and conservatives are not about to reform their ways, which traditionally gave greatest weight to a judge's individual judgment, personal values, and ideological stance in a case--far more weight than to law, codified or customary. One might argue that faced with liberalizing reforms, which also require judges to train in applying old and new laws, this group have become even more reactionary. These conservative judges deem all women who assert their independence as deviants and prostitutes; they consider the women's shelters to be nothing more than brothels. Such a judge has ruled on Samar Badawi's case.
The Need for Action Now
Samar Badawi's lawyer, Mr. Waleed Abu Alkhair, has appealed to the media and social networks, as a last recourse for his client, currently jailed for being the daughter of an abuser, at the whim of a judge who contravenes the protections in place for her within Saudi Arabia, and gives her abusive father the authority to keep her in jail ad infinitum. The judge does so in defiance of Saudi law, which would require charges, a trial, and a conviction, prior to jailing; and, despite previous court rulings removing her father's guardianship, proven abuse, and a royal order from Prince Khaled al-Faisal, Governor of Makkah, to send her to a women's shelter.
In jail she will remain, cut off from her 8-year old son, until her father decides to agree to her release--or until sufficient international human and women's rights pressures are brought to bear, to help those in Saudi who wish for genuine reform to free her.
You can help by sending Samar a message of support via the blog Save Samar (which includes all documentary evidence of the story recounted above), or Facebook site Save Samar; making others aware; participating in the Twitter campaign #Samar; and, letting your women's rights and human rights groups know about Samar Badawi, and the need to help her, and others like her.
This support remains necessary, as the case is still not settled, and since the media and social network campaigns, conservatives have mounted a counter-campaign.
Saudi Arabia: Where Fathers Rule and Courts Oblige (HRW Report)
FT: Abused women battle Saudi injustice (Financial Times article)
Save Samar Blog (which includes all documentary evidence of the story recounted above) in Arabic
Samar Story (blog post in English within the Save Samar site)
Save Samar Facebook site in Arabic
Another Saudi Perpetual Minor (blog post)
We All You #Samar and We Will Never Rest Until You Do (blog post)
#Samar (blog post)
Samar (blog post)
Samar Badawi is in Prison (blog post)
*Message en français, Mme Samar Badawi: Une saoudienne emprisonée, victime d'un père abusif et d'un juge réactionnaire
Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
*Kudos and my thanks to Fouad Al-Farhan who has been highly involved in creating the blog and twitter campaigns, and who made me aware of this situation; and to those who have blogged about it, and added their own understandings.
*UPDATE--Read the good news of Samar's release:
Ms Samar Badawi Freed: Justice Prevails in Saudi Arabia!