THE CONTROVERSY over the case of Saudi national Homaidan Al-Turki, who was sentenced to 27 years in jail in Colorado on Aug. 31 for sexually abusing and enslaving his Indonesian maid, re-emerged after the recent visit of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to Riyadh where he explained the sentence to Saudi officials and family members of Al-Turki.
American commentators in newspapers and on blogs were outraged that an American official had to fly to Saudi Arabia to explain why Al-Turki had been found guilty and sentenced to jail time. “Wouldn’t it have made more sense to dispatch Suthers to ask the questions? ....Suthers, elected by the people of Colorado, is here to enforce laws, not explain them. He shouldn’t even be asked,” wrote columnist David Harsanyi in the Denver Post on Nov. 23.
“In an utter display of American weakness and shame, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers traveled to Saudi Arabia to apologize. Apologize for the American justice system and virtually everything else that America stands for,” fumed conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel.
“Suthers said that, under Saudi law, four eyewitnesses are needed to prove a rape case. Memo to Suthers: You are the Attorney General of Colorado, not Saudi Arabia. The four witnesses is taken from Islamic law, since Saudi Arabia is a theocracy. We are not. And that should be the end of the story.”
According to Suthers in a television interview with the Denver affiliate of CBS News, a brother of Al-Turki told him in Riyadh that the family could not understand how a US jury could give credibility to the testimony of an Indonesian maid.
That, in my mind, points to the heart of the whole uproar in Saudi Arabia about Al-Turki’s case: How could anyone take the word of a mere female (and a maid at that!), over the word of a supposedly religious, male Saudi? It seems that unfortunately the most basic tenants of justice and human rights escape a significant portion of the Saudi population.
A top Saudi official told me that he believed Al-Turki was guilty of abusing his maid, and that the Saudi government was only helping him because he was a Saudi citizen and not because they necessarily sympathized with him.
And for sure, Al-Turki is not a nice person. According to his indictment, he enslaved his Indonesian maid for four years in his Boulder, Colorado home; kept her locked in the basement; sexually abused her; took her passport away and failed to pay her regularly for all of that time. He and his wife, Sarah Khonaizan, settled a lawsuit by the US Department of Labor by paying their former maid $64,000 in back wages.
The horrible aspect of this whole case is that Al-Turki was defiant in court, refusing to apologize for his beastly actions, even using Islam to excuse his behavior. “Your honor, I am not here to apologize for things that I did not do and for crimes I did not commit,” he told the judge. “The state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors.”
What utter nonsense! Since when is sexually abusing a maid, keeping her hostage in your home and not paying her wages basic Muslim behaviors?! Al-Turki’s justification for his actions have no basis in Islam whatsoever. Just because maids in the Kingdom are treated like virtual house-slaves by some Saudis, does not mean that it is an acceptable practice.
The problem with some Saudis is that they believe they are better and more special than other people. That is not true, and the sooner these Saudis wake up and realize that all human beings on this Earth are entitled to their rights of freedom and dignity, even Indonesian maids, the better off Saudi society will be.
Suthers defended his trip to the Kingdom by saying that he conveyed the fact that the US and Colorado were not a bit apologetic about their legal systems, and that Al-Turki had been given a fair trial.
Saudis should be the last ones to cry foul at the American justice system, where trials are open to the public; where defendants are allowed to have lawyers represent them in court; where witnesses can be called to testify and are cross-examined by both the prosecution and defense; and where juries follow clear and precise sentencing guidelines (based on judicial precedents and existing laws) in deciding the guilt or innocence of those accused.
In comparison, most defendants in this country are not allowed to have lawyers represent them in court; juries are non-existent; judges sometimes give widely different punishments for the same crimes, and many trials are closed to the public.
I also think that in view of the recent case of the 16-year-old Qatif girl who was sentenced to being lashed 90 times for being in a car with a male who was not her relative, despite having been ganged raped by several men, the Saudi government should seriously consider giving jurisdiction of certain rape cases to civilian courts where the Sharia requirement of having four witnesses can be waived. For as the system stands today, if Al-Turki’s maid had charged him with rape in the Kingdom he would most likely be absolved because of acceptable evidence.