Former Washington Post reporter Janine Zacharia writes about Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani. The Saudi activist has been on trial for months and is now waiting for a verdict. The verdict hearing, which was originally scheduled for later this week, has been postponed.
Al-Qahtani told Zacharia that he expects to be sent to prison for roughly three years, a sentence, he told her, that the government will deem “palatable to international human rights organizations. The Saudi regime doesn’t care about its local subjects,” he said. “This is my expectation. I hope I am wrong on that one.” Zacharia says the Obama administration should speak up about the case:
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has always been appalling. The chaotic outcome of the Arab revolutions has, regrettably, made the United States and other Western powers even more reluctant to pressure Saudi leaders to promote democratic reforms.
With good men facing jail, now would be the right time for Western governments — and Washington in particular — to set aside those concerns and do something to try to reverse this trend of Saudi Arabia imprisoning writers and activists.
That Saudi Arabia allows so much freedom on its pan-Arab Al Arabiya satellite channel and Al Hayat newspaper while continuing to imprison writers and activists at home is especially hypocritical and abhorrent. It’s a point that Obama should make to the Saudis, to at least try to prevent Qahtani and his colleague from being sent to jail and silenced.
It is important to point out, however, that the freedom she says is allowed on Al Arabia, al-Hayat and other Saudi-owned pan-Arab media, does not extend to cover direct criticism of the Saudi government.