Middle East Transparent

29 أبريل 2004

شفــــاف الشــــرق الأوســــط

 

INTERNATIONAL PEN

International Women's Day

MARCH 8, 2004


"We live in troubled times. The current situation and the challenges and dilemmas facing the country require a considered vision of the future and reform. The men and women of this country must stand shoulder to shoulder to ensure that Saudi Arabia remains a land of peace and security for all of its people. However, this will not happen while more than half the population remains second-class citizens." -Wajeha Al-Huwaider (1)

This March 8, International PEN observes International Women's Day by placing a spotlight on the case of leading Saudi Arabian journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider. Al-Huwaider, who writes for the Arabic-language daily Al-Watan and the English-language daily Arab News, has been banned from publishing since August 2003. The directive against her was reportedly issued by the Ministry of Information in response to a column published in late May 2003 in which she suggested that there was disillusionment among Saudi citizens and pointed to a growing tendency for people to look to the United States for solutions to their problems. She is among a growing number of liberal and opposition journalists to have been banned from publishing and subject to government harassment in recent months.

The need for, as Wajeha has described it, a ‘considered vision of the future and reform’, has become a pressing one for many in Saudi Arabia. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, the conflicting forces of spiralling radicalism within the country and increased pressure from the United States are threatening the country’s stability. In May and November last year, suicide bombers targeted the capital, Riyadh. Political instability is being further compounded by the kingdom’s first serious economic downturn since 1932. The Saudi political system, which is an alliance between the ruling  Al-Saud royal family and a deeply conservative religious establishment based on the rigid Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, is being forced to address these issues and is slowly opening itself to change. Following the Riyadh bombing in May 2003, the authorities announced plans to hold elections in 2004 at council level for the first time. However, many reformist and dissident voices want to see speedier and more radical change than is being offered by the government, and as calls for wide-reaching political, social and economic reform have been growing, so have the numbers of journalists to have been dismissed from their posts or banned from publishing.

Wajeha Al-Hawaider writes broadly on political, social and cultural issues in the Arab world, including the marginalisation of women, the plight of the Shiite minority, and relations with the West. She has written a book which she is unable to publish, and has started on a second. She has two sons and lives in Dhahran, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. Many of her articles are available online at www.arabnews.com.

International PEN Writers in Prison Committee protests the banning order issued against Saudi journalist and writer Wajeha Al-Hawaider solely for the peaceful and legitimate exercise of her profession, and calls for Wajeha Al-Huwaider and all other journalists in Saudi Arabia to be allowed to practise their professions in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

HERE'S HOW YOU CAN HELP:

 


Please write a polite letter to the Saudi Arabian authorities protesting the banning order issued against journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider solely for the peaceful practice of her profession, and urging the authorities to allow all writers and journalists in Saudi Arabia to practice their profession without fear of persecution in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You may copy the suggested text for your appeal or create your own.

Date

Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard
His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdullah bin 'Abdul 'Aziz Al-Saud
Royal Court
Riyadh
Saudi Arabia

Your Excellency,

I am writing to express my extreme concern over the number of Saudi Arabian journalists to have been banned from publishing or subject to government harassment in recent months. I am particularly worried by the banning order issued against journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider solely for the peaceful practice of her profession. I respectfully urge you to ensure that she is able to resume her professional duties immediately and that all writers and journalists in Saudi Arabia are allowed to practice their profession without fear of persecution in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely,

Your name and signature

Cc:
Prince Bandar bin Sultan
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.
Washington DC 20037
Fax: (202) 944-5983

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FOOTNOTES:
(1)Wajeha Al-Huwaider, ‘Women Still Find Themselves Marginalized in Our Society,' published in Arab News on May 9, 2003.

Photo of Wajeha Al-Huwaider above courtesy of WiPC.