Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Activist arrested over ‘Muhammad’s beard’

Saudi women’s rights activist Suad Al Shammari, co-founder of ‘Saudi Liberals Group’ along with Raef Badawi –who’s currently serving a seven-year sentence on charges of setting up a website that undermines general security and ridiculing religious figures– has been arrested and transferred to the women’s section at the General Prison of Briman, in Jeddah, after an interrogation by General Prosecutor which follows a formal complaint by Saudi clerics concerning her tweet on “the beard of the Prophet”.

REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Muhammad’s beard and the kuffar

In a tweet posted last year Suad Al Shammari disavowed the uniqueness of the 'Muslim beard' arguing that several atheists, Jews and Communists in the past had, and in the present have, beards, and "even Abu Jahl [a polytheist pagan leader] had a beard that was longer than that of Prophet Mohammad”. This tweet provoked the vehement reaction of the religious authorities who considered her statement offensive to Islam. According to local sources,after posting this tweet a religious commission supporting the Prophet Muhammad called the telecommunication authorities to shut down her account (which, however, did not happen).Suad said she was not targeting Islam claiming earlier tweets supported her argument.

Critics to religious hypocrisy and women's rights struggle

The straw that broke the camel's back, however, was a photo posted on twitter of a man kissing the hand of a Muslim cleric. In the commentary Suad wrote: "Note the vanity and pride on his face when he finds a slave to kiss his hand." In another tweet Suad claimed that she was described as “immoral and unfaithful only for criticizing their sheikhs”. Suad had recently come to the defense of two women arrested by the religious police just for taking a taxi driven by a man. Suad appealed to King Abdullah and the Saudi interior minister to demand their release.

More than 30,000 political prisoners behind bars

The detention of Suad Al Shammari is only the tip of the iceberg. According to estimates provided by Saudi activistsquoted by Amnesty International there are over thirty thousand political prisoners behind the bars in Saudi Arabia and they are treated as criminals and often beaten. The sentencing of the prominent Saudi human rights activist and head of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) organizationWaleed Abu al-Khair sparked outrage. Despite a global campaign on social networks to request his release, he was recently transferred to the Al-Malaz prison in Riyadh which is located 960 kilometers from where his family lives in Jeddah.
Amnesty’s report “Saudi Arabia’s ACPRA: How the kingdom silences its human rights activists” focuses on the cases of11 human rights activists in Saudi Arabia who are either imprisoned or on trial and facing imprisonment. Several members of the Association of Saudi Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA) are currently behind bars for their militancy activities in favor of human rights, including founders Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, sentenced to ten and eleven years in prison. Fadhel Maki Manasif, a founding member of the Adalah Centre for Human Rights, is also in jail since October 2011. According to Said Boumedouha, deputy director of the program Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty, Saudi authorities managed to consolidate their power through a systematic campaign of persecution of all activists and opponents. The aim was to nip in the bud the criticism arisen in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011.

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