Saudi Justice Ministry Suing Lawyers Over Critical Tweets

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice is suing 3 lawyers who used Twitter to criticize the ministry, local news site Alweeam reported Sunday. The ministry accused the lawyers of posting tweets that “damage the reputation of the justice apparatus” and retweeting cartoons and articles that mock the judiciary and judges.

A copy of one of the cases legal documents obtained by Riyadh Bureau shows that that the original lawsuit has been filed under the name the the ministry’s spokesman Fahad al-Bakran, but his name was later crossed off and replaced by the name of the Ministry of Justice.

The 3 lawyers targeted by MOJ lawsuits are Abdulrahman al-Rumaih, Abdulrahman al-Sobaihi and Bander al-Nogaithan.

MOJ spokesman al-Bakran told Dammam-based al-Sharq daily last September that the ministry has been monitoring the tweets of lawyers, a statement that was condemned by several lawyers who said the ministry should focus on improving its performance instead of wasting resources on monitoring what they say on Twitter.

Al-Nogaithan, a graduate of Harvard Law School who tweets under the handle @SaudiLawyer, commented on Twitter at the time that “such juvenile threats by MOJ do not scare us and we will continue to expose its transgressions and its major failure to achieve King Abdullah’s dream” to reform the judiciary.

The King announced a big project in October 2007 to overhaul the legal system, including the allocation of $2 billion for training judges and building new courthouses. Even though the decision was hailed as “one of the most significant reform moves King Abdullah has made so far,” the ministry has been criticized for failing to implement the reforms.

Critics of MOJ say the ministry have flooded the media with empty promises on which they repeatedly failed to deliver, creating an image different from the reality on the ground where citizens often complain that cases take years to be resolved due to the small number of judges who sometimes issue controversial sentences based on their own interpretation of Sharia in the absence of a written penal code.

In their lawsuits against the critical 3 lawyers, MOJ is seeking maximum punishment because, the ministry says, as lawyers they should be aware of the consequences of what they have done. According the Publications Law cited in the lawsuit, the maximum fine is SR500,000 that can be doubled in the case of repeated offense and also banning the accused of publishing in media.

The first hearing in the case before a legal committee from the Ministry of Culture and Information is scheduled to take place on Monday, November 18, 2013 in the capital Riyadh.

Saudi Denies Sentencing Man to Paralysis

Saudi Arabia denied that one of its courts issued a sentence to have a man surgically paralyzed on an “eye for eye” basis after he crippled another man by stabbing him in the back during a fight nearly ten years ago.

“This is untrue,” said the Ministry of Justice via its Twitter account. “This was not the sentence handed down by the judge who dismissed the request of such punishment.”

Saudi Gazette reported last month that Ali al-Khawahir was sentenced to be fully paralyzed as a punishment for causing paralysis to his best friend unless his family pays SR 1 million ($270,000) to the victim. Al-Khawahir was reportedly 14 years old when the incident happened and has been in jail since then.

The UK has urged Saudi Arabia not to carry out what now appears to be a misreported sentence, describing it as “grotesque.” London-based human rights groups Amnesty International has condemned the sentence. “That such a punishment might be implemented is utterly shocking,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director in a statement, “even in a context where flogging is frequently imposed as a punishment for some offenses, as happens in Saudi Arabia.”

The Ministry of Justice criticized human rights organizations for condemning Saudi Arabia based on false reports, saying confirming the accuracy of sources is one of the basics of working in the rights field. “The ministry hopes that everyone would attempt to be accurate,” MOJ said. “Fabricated and inaccurate news are offending to those who fall for them before others.

Saudi Justice Ministry Tweets Attendance Sheets of Judges

Saudi judges have a reputation of being notoriously unpunctual. The Ministry of Justice wants to change that impression. Today, MOJ’s account on Twitter started posting pictures of attendance sheets for some of its employees to show that judges report to the job on time:

Not everyone is buying it:

The Saudi judicial system, administered by conservative judges trained in Islamic Sharia, has long been criticized for being vague and lacking some of the basic safeguards of justice. Citizens often complain that cases take years in courts to be resolved due to the small number of judges.

In October 2007 King Abdullah announced a $2 billion project to reform the judiciary, but the plan has faced resistance by the old guard in the system. A shake up of the country’s top judges, announced earlier this week, may help speed up reforms according to lawyers and analysts who spoke to Reuters.

Saudi Judge Incited Youth to Join Fight in Syria

A Saudi judge has encouraged a number of young people to join the rebels in Syria despite official warnings from the government against such action, the Times of London reported Friday.

Ibrahim Abdullah al-Hassani, a judge in the city of Buraidah at the ultraconservative central region of Qassim, has reportedly pushed youth on trial at his court to go fight “the war against the Shia.”

Those young people were on trial for a protest held on the National Day by the families of terrorism suspects last September. Saudi journalist Iman al-Qahtani, who shares a byline in the Times story with Hugh Tomlinson, later reported that 14 of those protesters received lashes and jail sentences.

However, after the judge handed them his verdict, he began criticizing the Shia and told the detainees that it was their religious duty to join the battle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the newspaper.

“The judge was lecturing and inciting them against the Shia in Syria. My son left court completely convinced to go to Syria,” Abdulrahman al-Talq, father of one of them, told the paper.

Few days later, his son Mohammed and five other co-defendants left the country heading to Syria. Last week he was reportedly killed there. He His parents learned of his death though the social networking site Twitter.

“I must be satisfied with God’s will, but I am angry for the reasons my son decided to leave,” the father told the Times. “The Government that bans all peaceful protest and criminalizes them with prison and flogging, and this judge who incites young people to fight. He isn’t fit to sit in a courtroom; he should be tried for inciting murder.”

The Saudi government has strongly supported the uprising against Assad. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister, told the attendees of a meeting for the Syrian opposition in Morocco that the “Syrian regime has fully lost its legitimacy,” and pledged $ 100 million in aid to the Syrian people.

Saudi clerics have also expressed their support of the uprising, but stopped short of urging young people to join the jihad as they have previously done in Afghanistan and Iraq. Influential Saudi cleric Salman al-Odah warned in October against going to Syria to assist rebels, saying the arrival of youth to fight against the regime in Syria “will only complicate the crisis,” according to his official website.

However, the local media have reported on several cases of Saudi fighters killed in Syria during recent weeks. Al-Hayat daily for example identified two Saudi citizens who were earlier this month fighting alongside the Syrian rebels.

Saudi Judiciary Reform Moves Slowly

Saudi Arabia will build 180 courthouses over the next six months as part of King Abdullah’s project to reform the country’s judicial system, al-Hayat reported today.

Majed al-Adwan, who leads the project at the Ministry of Justice, told the newspaper that the ministry is working hard to provide the proper environment to help streamline the litigation procedures and using technology to speed up such procedures.

The project to overhaul the judicial system was announced in October 2007, and it included the allocation of $ 2 billion for training judges and building new courthouses.

The Saudi judicial system is administered by conservative judges trained in Islamic Sharia has long been criticized, especially after some cases in recent years that gained international attention like the Qatif Girl case. The system has been also seen as vague and lacking some of the basic safeguards of justice. Citizens complain that cases often take years in courts to be resolved due to the small number of judges.

King Abdullah’s decision to reform the system was hailed as “one of the most significant reform moves King Abdullah has made so far.”

But the old guard at the the justice ministry has reportedly resisted calls for reform, and critics of MOJ say the ministry have flooded the media with hollow promises. Saudi lawyer Bander Alno­gaithan, a Harvard law school graduate, often uses Twitter to chronicle his dissatisfaction with the country’s judiciary.

“It seems to me that the ministry has given up on reforming the judiciary on the ground and concentrated its effort on creating an ‘image’ that is totally different from reality,” he said.

The 2011 annual report for the Court of Grievances said that the 822 judges employed by the court have dealt with a total of 99,103 cases and gave rulings in 58,184 of them. 1,023 jobs at the court remained vacant, the report said.

Reformist Saudi Judge Says His House Attacked

An armed gang has repeatedly attacked the house of an influential Saudi judge in Riyadh, local media reported today. Issa al-Ghaith, a criminal court judge, told Al Arabiya that the police were slow to respond.

“My house in the Saudi capital Riyadh has been fired at by gang members who have repeatedly tried to break into my house and kidnap my family members,” he said.

Al-Ghaith is well known for supporting King Abdullah’s reform policies, including the decision to allow men and women to study together at KAUST. His views brought him him the wrath of conservatives who accused him of encouraging the Westernization of Saudi society.

The judge said he is unaware of the reasons behind the recent attack on his house and if it is related to his work in the judiciary.

Sharia Judges Oppose ‘Westernizing’ Reforms

Angus McDowall reports:

Saudi judges who enforce sharia (Islamic law) have condemned what they see as “the stench of Western ideas” in sweeping legal reforms pushed by King Abdullah, underscoring friction between government modernizers and religious hardliners.

In a letter to Justice Minister Mohammed al-Issa seen by Reuters, eight judges complained about foreign trainers who shave their beards contrary to purist Islam, the minister’s meetings with diplomats of “infidel” states and plans to let women practice as lawyers.

I have seen the letter when it first surfaced online last month but could not confirm its authenticity. Props to Reuters for managing to get the confirmation. The letter, and the news from last week about plans to establish a special Saudi court in London, suggest that the King’s project to reform the judiciary is proving even more difficult than anticipated. It is going to take a long time and it is going to be a painful process, but in the end it has to be done.

Saudi to Establish Arbitration Center in London

FT reports:

Saudi Arabia will lobby the UK government as early as November to set up a confidential court in London that would settle multimillion pound commercial disputes arising from the Middle Eastern kingdom.

The Saudis hope that a London-based arbitration centre would help counter investor concerns about the Saudi Arabian legal system and thus boost foreign investment into the kingdom.

Former judge Abdulaziz al-Gasim described this decision as the “official declaration for the death of the Saudi judiciary reform.”

Saudi Women to Practice Law Soon?

Al-Riyadh has a poorly written, thinly sourced short news item today about allowing women to practice law. The newspaper says a decision is expected before the end of this year that gives Saudi women the right to acquire law licenses. Graduates from the colleges of law and Sharia would be allowed to practice the profession. Female lawyers would defend in all types of cases just like their male counterparts, the paper said, despite the justice ministry’s earlier suggestion to limit women lawyers to cases of personal status, marriage, divorce and custody.

7,000 Cases in Al-Ahsa Courts’ Backlog

The situation of courts in my hometown in the Eastern Province is pretty bad, and it is representative of the situation in the rest of the country. The king’s $2-billion project to reform the judiciary is not going so well:

Dr. Yousef Al-Jabr, head of the Lawyers Committee at Al-Ahsa Chamber of Commerce, called on the Supreme Judicial Council to fulfill the vacancies as soon as possible. He said that in most countries, there is one judge per 2000 citizens, while in our country the average is one judge per 20,000 people.

Justice delayed is justice denied.