Saudi Arabia: Journalist arrested for “destructive thoughts”

11 May 2006
Journalist who reported about ritualistic burning of musical instruments has been arrested by Saudi Arabia’s domestic intelligence agency

On April 3, Saudi Arabia’s domestic intelligence agency, al-Mabahith, arrested journalist Rabbah al-Quwai’i, 24, on charges of “doubting the [Islamic] creed” and for “harboring destructive thoughts.”
While based in the town Ha’il in the northern part of the country, Rabbah al-Quwai’i had written on the phenomenon of shaikhs leading groups of teenagers to car parks on the outskirts of the city to participate “in ritualistic burning of musical instruments and books,” which they considered contrary to the prevailing Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.

Rabbah al-Quwai’i worked as a local correspondent for the daily Okaz in Ha’il before moving to Riyadh in late 2005 to work with Saudi Arabia’s first tabloid newspaper, al-Shams. Participating in a number of online discussion forums, over the past four years, he has questioned the prevalent religious doctrine and in particular criticized thinking that, in his view, contributes to acts of violence by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. In February 2006, Rabbah al-Quwai’i told Human Rights Watch that he had received numerous death threats in response to his Internet writings, which he signs with his real name. Also, unknown assailants smashed his car, pinning a note to it saying “next time, it’s you.”

On April 4, from his holding cell at the police station, Rabbah al-Quwai’i managed to call an acquaintance, and according to the acquaintance, he told that police investigators had taunted him with questions like, “Do you know at what time morning prayers are?” and “How can you say you’re a Muslim?”
It is unclear whether private citizens or the state initiated the charges against Rabbah al-Quwai’i. In Saudi Arabia, private citizens can file suits against another person when they believe that person has in some way infringed religious norms.

Infuriating the extremists

In 2005, Hamzah Muzeini, a professor of linguistics at King Saud University, wrote a piece in the newspaper Al-Watan decrying the presence in Saudi universities of hard-line Islamists who ban music, dance, and the teaching of female students by male professors. Muzeini’s writings infuriated extremists so much that they initiated an extraordinary legal case against the journalist in an Islamic sharia court, which has no formal jurisdiction over press matters and where severe penalties include flogging. The suit was filed by an Islamist professor named Abdullah Barak, who accused Muzeini of defamation after the two exchanged a series of remarks in Saudi newspapers.

Muzeini was eventually convicted and sentenced to 100 lashes and two months in prison. When he defiantly told the judge that his decision would never stand, the judge promptly doubled the sentence. An incensed Abdullah Barak, who had issued an earlier directive to halt the prosecution, nullified the verdict against Muzeini and quashed several other similar prosecutions.
Hamzah Muzeini also received several death threats for his criticism.
“They don’t attack issues; they attack you personally,” he said in an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).


Human Rights Watch – 12 April 2006:
‘Saudi Arabia: Al-Qa’ida Critic Arrested for ‘Destructive Thoughts’ ‘

Committee to Protect Journalists – 9 May 2006:

‘Princes, Clerics, and Censors’
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