Javid Hassan, Arab News
RIYADH, 8 December 2006 — The US-based Human Rights Watch reported yesterday that it was still waiting for a response from the Saudi authorities to a request to visit prisons in the Kingdom for a first-hand study of the situation.
“The request was made over two months ago,” said Christoph Wilcke, Human Rights Watch researcher for the Middle East and North Africa.
Wilcke, who speaks fluent Arabic, arrived in the Kingdom as part of his mission to observe the criminal justice system, the rights of women and children, and the treatment of domestic servants.
“During my stay in Riyadh I received hundreds of calls from everywhere about people’s grievances,” he said. “A majority of them related to maids.”
The news of the organization’s presence in the capital spread quickly. Many, including the relatives of detainees, rang up Arab News from abroad to get their own message out through the media. Others said they were unable to contact Wilcke as he had closed the line due to the flood of phone calls.
Speaking from Colombo, Jayatisa, a Sri Lankan expatriate who was released from Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hair prison recently following a pardon from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, said a compatriot, Joseph Ercon Selvarajah, has been languishing in the same prison for over two years. He was arrested, according to Jayatisa, for embezzlement of funds amounting to SR17,000, a charge he denies.
“He has lost contact with his family in the strife-torn northern part of Sri Lanka,” said Jayatisa. “He is desperate to return home for the sake of his family.”
Another caller from Colombo, Fawzia Niyas, said her husband, Mohammed Niyas, has been in Al-Hair prison for over four and a half years.
When the Saudi government released 722 prisoners from eight jails under a royal pardon in the holy month of Ramadan, her husband was among those freed.
The Saudi newspaper Okaz published a photo in July of Mohammed and others walking out of the prison, but Fawzia says he has not returned to Sri Lanka and his whereabouts are unknown.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Filipino expatriate from Mindanao told Arab News that a Filipino maid escaped from her sponsor and sought shelter in the house of a compatriot. The latter exploited her situation and raped her.
However, the Philippine Embassy, which is aware of the case, has expressed its inability to take action against the culprit on two grounds. First, the girl, who is 19, has not filed any case against the alleged rapist. Second, she cannot approach the police, since her work/residency visa has expired. The recruitment agency does not want to intervene either, since it is a court case. Meanwhile, her fate hangs in the balance.
Dr. G.P. Pande, an internist, said it is now almost four years since his sponsor, Dr. Ali Al-Shehri, failed to settle his dues amounting to around SR200,000. In the meantime, the labor court keeps adjourning the case as the sponsor or his representative does not show up on the day of hearing.
“I want to return to India, but I am helpless in the face of this indefinite adjournment of court hearings,” he adds.
These are just some of the cases that Human Rights Watch is observing during its stay in the Kingdom