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 Registers First Female Lawyer

Saudi Arabia has registered its first female trainee advocate, paving the way for women to practice as lawyers in the kingdom where strict Islamic sharia law applies, an activist said on Tuesday.

“The road is open now to women to receive permits to practise as lawyers, after the registration of Arwa al-Hujaili as the first trainee lawyer,” rights activist Walid Abulkhair told AFP.

Saudi Women Lawyers: Equal Footing?

Elizabeth Dickinson, reporting for Abu Dhabi-based The National, goes few years back to tell the story of how Saudi Arabia finally decided to allow female lawyers to apply for licences and to argue cases in court:

In 2007, a group of women working with Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights published the first legal study arguing that female lawyers should have equal rights to practice law. They presented their findings to the government but they also took their campaign directly to the people.

“We were trying to send our voice through the media,” recalls Hanouf Alhazzaa, a lawyer who worked on the study and is now a doctoral candidate at Harvard University.

A Facebook group named “I’m a Lawyer” was set up. Twitter hashtags followed. Women posted YouTube videos arguing that they were just as qualified as men to be lawyers.

Small cracks began to open in the system as the word spread.

As the story later notes, “the new rules seem to place women on equal footing with men across all segments of legal practice.” On paper, that is. The real test will be to see if these new rules will be fully implemented. We have many nice rules on paper that never get implemented. We also have practices that are banned even though laws say noting about them. The prime example for that, of course, is women driving.

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.

MOJ To Hire Women

Fatima Muhammad interviews Majid Al-Adwan, head of King Abdullah Project for the Development of the Judicial System:

According to Al-Adwan, the ministry is seeking to hire [female] law graduates as well as psychologists and sociologists who will be in charge of assisting women in legal matters. “So far the ministry has allocated a section at Jeddah General Court to start welcoming women. They will then be trained according to tasks assigned,” he said.

What about law graduates who want to work as, you know, lawyers in courts? No word on that yet.