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Tales of torture

Tales of torture

We get a point of view from Saudi, as leading English daily Arab News calls for the perpetrators who abused a Sri Lankan maid to be punished if found guilty.

September 1, 2010 1:50 by

Saudis rightly resent newspapers abroad publishing twisted or false reports about the Kingdom. Trying to set the record straight, however, is not made easy by the constant drip of stories of Saudis mistreating foreigners in the Kingdom.

They are all too common. The case of the five Ethiopians who died of asphyxiation at an overcrowded detention center in Jazan is but the latest in a line of shocking revelations that speak of a darker side to life for those foreigners who for various reasons fall foul of the system or end up working for unscrupulous or cruel employers. Arab News regularly reports such cases — such as that of the Indian maid kept locked for months in a house in Riyadh after her sponsor “sold” her to a recruitment agency. Or that of the hospital cleaner from Kerala so badly beaten by her supervisor that she ended up in the same hospital where she worked. Or the maid beaten up by her employer and his wife who forced her to work in other people’s homes— illegal under Saudi law — keeping all the money they charged and not paying her for it. There are many other allegations of foreign employees unpaid or mistreated that Arab News does not publish simply because the facts cannot be verified.

None of these, however, compare in horror to the report of the Sri Lankan maid found with 24 nails and needles in her body which, she claims, were hammered in by her sponsors.

This story is causing a great stir. There have been protests outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Sri Lanka. On the other side of the debate are those who say the allegations are false, that 49-year-old L.T. Ariyawathi could not have got through airport metal detectors without being stopped. Clearly the story has to be thoroughly investigated. If her employers did this then they must be punished rigorously — and be seen to be punished. That is crucial. Justice has to be seen to be done as a deterrent to others. But equally, if the women did this to herself, hoping to benefit financially from it, she must be punished.

The other important point is that immediate action is imperative. The longer the case drags on, the more that can damage the Kingdom’s reputation. The delay will be used by those with an anti-Saudi bias as evidence that when it comes to foreign workers’ rights and the way they are treated there is an institutionalized culture of contempt.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of domestic servants in the Kingdom are well treated and well appreciated is, unfortunately, irrelevant in this situation. As for bad employers, there are bad employers everywhere: Saudis are no better, no worse than anyone else. Ultimately, the big issue here is not even what may or may not have happened to the maid. It is about justice. A horrible crime is alleged. It must not be ignored simply because the supposed victim is foreign and the alleged perpetrators Saudis. There already is a perception that foreign domestic servants are regarded as somewhat less than human, that authorities turn a blind eye to crimes committed against them. There is an opportunity here to prove that is not the case. It must be seized.

–          Arab News

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1 Comment

  1. Syed Neaz Ahmad on September 2, 2010 5:44 pm

    These and other reports of torture, exploitation and denial of human Rights to foreign workers is an ongoing saga of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I have highlighted such incidents in my various articles (July to November 2009) in London newspaper The Guardian.

    I taught at Mecca University for 28 years, edited daily newspaper, wrote columns & features, was often on Saudi TV, was interviewed on Jeddah FM Radio – effectively I was someone who was not “unwanted” but one fine morning for no reason I was hauled fro my office, arrested, hand-cuffed, tortured and deported with a shirt on my back.

    You might find the following interesting to read but it also reveals that most foreigners are living “dangerously” in Saudi Arabia:

    Comment is free
    Eleven days in Saudi GitmoI have no idea why I was detained in Mecca and Jeddah in dire conditions for days and then deported, but I know this is not Islam

    Syed Neaz Ahmad, Tuesday 14 July 2009 12.30 BST Article history

    I worked as a senior lecturer at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca until last January. I taught English language, linguistics and creative writing. Over 28 years I signed three contracts with the university and had no problem whatsoever, either with students or the administration.

    I taught graduates and undergraduates and, as a tribute to my good standing, I was often asked to teach for the women’s campus – which involves use of CCTV whereby the pupils can see the teachers but the teacher cannot see them.

    In collaboration with a Saudi colleague I co-authored a series of three books on writing for students of engineering and Islamic architecture. In addition I wrote weekly columns for the two Jeddah-based English newspapers, the Saudi Gazette and Arab News. I appeared on Saudi TV chat shows and was often interviewed on Jeddah FM radio. For more than fours year I also worked as an online editor of Saudi Gazette.

    When my tenure with the university ended, I was offered the post of editorial consultant at the Muslim World League – a non-government organisation based in Mecca. Since I am a British citizen my job transfer had to be approved by the interior ministry in Riyadh and I signed a one-year (usually renewable) contract. All my papers were in order.

    In May, I was called unexpectedly to the Mecca passport office and detained for several hours without any apparent reason. On that day they confiscated my passport and my residence permit. When I protested that I would not be able to drive my car or go out on the street without a valid residence permit they gave me a temporary one valid only for Mecca. I was not allowed to leave the city: my confinement had already begun.

    On the morning of 7 June, while working at the Muslim World League office, I was asked to return to the passport office. I was detained in the main office for several hours with no explanation and then transferred to another outfit run by the interior ministry.

    I had no idea why I was being detained or where I was being sent. They took away my briefcase and my mobile phone and pushed me into a room that was already full with around 500 inmates. The air conditioning and the fans did not work. There was no drinking water. The toilets were dirty and three of the five toilets were without water and electricity. One can only imagine the stink. In June temperatures in Mecca run up to 50C.

    Inmates in this Saudi Gitmo were moved from one room to another every two hours or so. As there was not enough room to sit or stretch your legs it added to the stress and strain. We were made to sleep on bare floors and fights for sitting/sleeping space were not uncommon. There was a stabbing over a small sum of money – I don’t know if the victim survived.

    The guards in Mecca were very “kind” to me. They never missed an opportunity to call me “animal”, kick my ankles with their boots or step on my toes.

    After four days handcuffed in Mecca, I was transferred to a detention centre in Jeddah where conditions were even worse. In warehouse-like halls with no air conditioning, no fans and temperatures rising to 50C, about 1,500 people were locked up.

    We were provided with food but we ate only enough to survive as it was rumoured that the food was drugged to make us sleep. From the sleeping patterns of the inmates, this was probably true.

    After 11 days of hell I was deported to Bahrain from where I made my way back to England. I had to leave everything – my car, my flat and my belongings.

    I still do not know why I was singled out for this treatment which has left me jobless, broke and with a traumatic experience that is hard to overcome. As a Muslim I know that this is not Islam.


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