|Arrests of Businesswoman and Professor: Unanswered Questions
Nourah Abdul Aziz Al-Khereiji, [email protected]
|A number of questions have been raised regarding the recent arrests of a businesswoman in Riyadh and a professor in Makkah. Both were allegedly in a state of khulwa (seclusion with an unrelated man or woman) and so far, officials of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice have not answered any of the questions. A “clarification” from the organization’s director in Riyadh regarding the arrest of the businesswoman was published in the Feb. 19 edition of Al-Watan daily but it raised more questions than it answered.Firstly, would it not have been better for the commission’s agent who took Yara, the businesswoman, from a Starbuck’s café on Feb. 4 to issue a warning to the woman and her unrelated male business associate? Is this not part and parcel of the commission’s role? As the name of the group implies, the role is to promote virtue before preventing vice. A polite warning would have avoided an unnecessary and humiliating arrest and public defamation. And had the arresting commission member not overreacted, he would have learned that the woman was having coffee with a business associate because the electricity had gone out in their office upstairs. The agent would have learned that it was business rather than immoral behavior that led to the man and woman to share a table in public.The same could be said about the professor who was arrested under similar circumstances. Every human being deserves to be treated politely and the commission agents should have taken the trouble to learn that the professor and his associate had a good track record regarding moral conduct and should have been treated fairly and kindly.
A second question: Why doesn’t the commission have women agents to deal with women suspects? Shortly after Yara’s arrest, the commission agent took her in a taxi to a local commission center. By the commission’s own interpretation, this transfer involved the arresting agent and the woman committing an act of khulwa. Having female commission members would offer a solution to the problem of handling women who are suspected of committing moral crimes.
Third: Why didn’t the arresting agent contact Yara’s husband at the moment the alleged moral crime was taking place? The agent not only did not attempt to contact Yara’s husband in Jeddah, but he prevented Yara from trying to contact him by confiscating her mobile phone. Had he spoken to Yara’s husband, he would have discovered that Yara’s husband had given her his permission to conduct business and interact with other men in a professional working environment.
Four: Why did the agent confiscate Yara’s mobile phone in the first place? It has become common practice nowadays for the commission to take the personal belongings of people detained on suspicion of committing moral crimes.
Five: Why did the agent have to take Yara in a taxi? As long as commission agents move about making arrests, is it not better to ensure they move around in official commission vehicles when they detain people?
Six: What makes the commission think every citizen is going to be as compliant as Yara when it comes to demanding that they get into a taxi – or even a marked commission vehicle – without a male relative or at least a female commission member? I would have flatly refused to get into any vehicle under such circumstances, especially considering the high-profile case of Salman Al-Huraisi, who was beaten violently and fatally while in custody of the commission in Riyadh.
Seven: Didn’t the Interior Ministry last year order the commission to turn suspects over to the police? Under direct orders from their superiors, the commission must involve the police after detaining anyone suspected of a moral crime. In Yara’s case as well as the professor’s, the commission processed suspects without involving the police.
Eight: Is a strip search really necessary for women arrested for khulwa? And when the commission confiscates personal effects, should it be allowed to destroy them as happened recently with an Al-Watan reporter in Riyadh?
Nine: Why does the commission compel people to sign papers saying they admit to doing wrong?
Ten: Why is having coffee in a public place with an unrelated man considered “illegal seclusion”? What is the true meaning of khulwa? If a woman is in a shop making a purchase and there is only she and a male salesman, is that khulwa? If a woman is taking a taxi alone, is she committing a moral crime?
Eleven: Is brutally beating a suspect to death a form of promoting virtue or preventing vice? Should the commission apologize? Should the men who beat the suspect to death be charged with a crime and punished?
Twelve: If a man gives permission to his wife to conduct business and travel on her own, what then?
The commission also mentioned that Yara was showing her hair and displaying her beauty. But this has obviously been approved by the Ministry of Culture and Information since women television presenters do the same and also apply makeup to their faces.
The head of the commission in Riyadh stated that the mingling of men and women in the workplace is not allowed by the Labor Ministry and is against Shariah and the country’s laws. But in fact the Labor Ministry has allowed women and men to work together. At hospitals they work not only as doctors but also engage in administrative work along with men. They also work in tourism offices and in markets. Moreover, women have been in the audio and visual media from the beginning and there, they have to mingle with men.
I hope and pray that the commission would not always look at men and women suspecting the worst but would at least sometimes assume the best.