(New York) - Saudi judges have repeatedly granted fathers the right to interfere arbitrarily in their adult children's private lives, in serious violation of their right to privacy and to establish families freely, Human Rights Watch said today. Fathers have imprisoned their adult daughters for "disobedience" and prevented their marriage, and have been granted custody over a grandchild without valid reason, all with the support of the courts.
Human Rights Watch has been studying a number of cases where male family members obtain court approval to prevent, force, or seek to dissolve marriages over the past four years.
"Saudi judges have elevated a father's authority to a pillar of law," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The result of unquestioned fatherly authority far too often has been family strife and unwarranted suffering for the adult children."
These judicial rulings have disregarded individual rights to privacy, the right to choose one's spouse freely, and the right of parents to a fair hearing in determining access to their children. They have also exposed women to abuse by making them choose between being locked up in a shelter and going back to the houses of abusive fathers and brothers.
The Saudi government recognizes filial "disobedience" as a crime and denies an adult woman the right to live on her own and to marry of her free will.
The experience of Samar Bawadi, 29, is a case in point, Human Rights Watch said. In July 2010, Jeddah's General Court ruled in her favor after she sued her father for refusing to let her marry, known as an adhl suit. Badawi is in prison pending trial, however, because her father had sued her for "disobedience" after she fled his home for a shelter.
Badawi, who has a nine-year-old son, Bara', from a previous marriage, in March 2008 escaped what she said and Saudi officials have confirmed was her father's physical abuse to the Protection Home in Jeddah, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Her father attempted to bring a "disobedience" charge against her, but the Saudi Public Prosecutions and Investigation Bureau decided not to prosecute her.
Badawi's father again sued her in 2009 for "disobedience," and Jeddah's Summary Court president, Judge Abdullah al-‘Uthaim, in late June 2009 issued a warrant for her arrest after she had missed several trial dates. Al-‘Uthaim said that "disobedience is among the serious cases requiring imprisonment," citing Interior Ministry decree 1900. In fact, this decree, defining serious crimes and dated August 14, 2007, only lists "assaulting a parent with beatings" as a crime concerning parent-child relations among the 15 serious crimes requiring detention pending trial.
She left the shelter in July 2009 with the permission of Jeddah's governor, Prince Mish'al bin Abd al-Majid, to live with her brother, believing this would protect her from arrest and imprisonment in the outstanding disobedience case. When she found a man whom she wanted to marry, and her father refused, she filed the adhl suit against her father. On April 4, 2010, she went to the first court session in her adhl case, where her father had her arrested based on the outstanding "disobedience" warrant. She had left her son in safe hands, expecting an arrest.
In a short report dated July 18, 2010, by a governorate committee set up to look into Badawi's case, Makka's governor, Prince Khalid bin Faisal, stated that Badawi had "married, had a child, and divorced, which caused her to return to her father's house, who used violence against her." He proposed a committee to reconcile father and daughter by making him promise not to use violence against her, to allow her to marry, and not to file spurious lawsuits he could not prove, according to a scanned copy of the report. Badawi's lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, a human rights advocate, confirmed the document's authenticity.
The governor's proposal came a year after a non-judicial investigation at the Protection Home found that Badawi's father had beaten and verbally abused her, used drugs, had 14 wives, had exhausted his financial resources, had repeatedly changed jobs, and became friendly with a "bad group of people."
The Protection Home initiated a psychological evaluation of Badawi and her father that both underwent. In a "medical report" dated May 17, 2008, the director of the Jeddah Mental Health Hospital found Badawi to be "in a stable state." In an undated report, the Charitable Society for Family Protection, working in the Protection Home, stated that the resident psychologist at the shelter had evaluated her father on May 20, 2008, and concluded with the "general impression" that he exhibits "psychopathic behavioral anxiety."
The charge for "disobedience" has not progressed, and no trial sessions have been held. Badawi's father has appealed the ruling against him in the adhl suit. On October 18, the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia informed Abu al-Khair, Badawi's lawyer, that it would open an investigation into the lawfulness of proceedings in the two court cases in which Badawi is a party.
In another case, Lulwa Abd al-Rahman, who is more than 30-years-old, remains in the Protection Home in Jeddah for a third year, her fiancé told Human Rights Watch. She had fled her abusive father, who refused to allow them to marry four years ago because of the fiancé's allegedly inferior tribe.
When she insisted on marrying despite her father's objection, he placed her in a mental hospital. After doctors there found no mental illnesses warranting detention or treatment, her father locked her in their house in Ahsa' province, Abd al-Rahman told Al-Hayat newspaper in March. She escaped on a visit to Makka's Grand Mosque and went to the Protection Home, she said.
Abd al-Rahman, like Badawi, won a case of adhl against her father in Jeddah's General Court, which also stripped the father of his status as her guardian, but the Court of Cassation granted the father's appeal and returned the case to the lower court for reconsideration. Judge Abdullah Mutawwa' of the General Court again affirmed the verdict, and the appeals court again sent it back, calling Abd al-Rahman's actions "rebellion" against her father.
After Mutawwa' reissued his verdict for a third time, the cassation court transferred Abd al-Rahman's case to a new lower court judge, Fahd al-‘Ammari, who again affirmed the verdict after her father failed to appear in court. When her father appealed again, the Cassation Court referred Abd al-Rahman's case to the public prosecutor to charge her with "illegal seclusion" with her fiancé, based on the father's allegation.
Neither the court proceedings with regard to her case for adhl, nor the investigation of her alleged illegal seclusion, have been completed. Abd al-Rahman remains in the Protection Home and cannot leave. She needs permission from her male guardian - her father - to release her.
In a third case, the father of ‘Adil Matrudi, a Saudi banker, has taken away and gained legal custody of the 9-year-old child of Matrudi and his wife, Raminiatun Asmin, an Indonesian. The two married in January 2000, and later that year had their first daughter, Thuraya. Matrudi's parents disapproved of his marriage, and, he told Human Rights Watch, accused Asmin of witchcraft and called them both derogatory names.
When the disagreement escalated, Matrudi asserts, his father coerced him into divorcing Asmin, which he did on July 19, 2003. But he took back his divorce in an Indonesian Sharia court six weeks later, thus invalidating the divorce under Islamic law. Matrudi alleges that 11 days after his divorce in Saudi Arabia, his father sent his domestic worker, wearing a full face veil, to court with Asmin's identity card to relinquish her custody over Thuraya. The court withdrew Asmin's custody without verifying the identity of the veiled woman.
On December 12, 2008, Matrudi's father took his granddaughter, Thuraya, into his house and prevented her parents from contacting her. Fearful that Matrudi might take his daughter as she left school, his father stopped sending her to school on December 14, an Education Ministry letter shows.
Matrudi went to the Human Rights Commission, a Saudi government agency, whose legal department, in a memorandum of June 4, 2009, stated that they considered the case a violation of parental custody, given that neither father nor mother was proven incapable of providing for the child, and that preventing her from going to school violated her right to education.
Judge Muhammad al-‘Unaizan of Riyadh's General Court reached a different opinion, however, and on October 7, 2009, granted Matrudi's father custody. Matrudi attended the hearing and stated his case, that the divorce occurred by coercion and that he had revoked the divorce and was thus still married to Asmin. Since then, Asmin has not seen Thuraya, who remains locked in her grandfather's house. Matrudi and Asmin have two other daughters, who now live with their mother in Indonesia. She left the kingdom in fear of losing her other children, too.
"Seeking shelter from abuse, marrying one's freely chosen spouse, or wanting to care for one's children are basic rights," Wilcke said. "Saudi judges should be protecting these rights rather than violating them in the name of a patriarchal order."
Human Rights Watch in November 2009 and August 2010 wrote to the governmental Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia regarding the cases of two Saudi women whose brothers forced them to marry multiple men against their will, and who suffered physical, sexual, and verbal abuse in their family homes.