Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99 per year.
Subscribe for Full Access
May 2005 Issue [Readings]

Hello Mullah, Hello Fatwa

The following testimonials, allegedly from men in a Saudi Arabian prison, were included in a program aired on Saudi television last winter to promote an amnesty program for Islamist militants. Wanted militants were given one month to turn themselves in or face harsher punishment. Six surrendered. Amnesty International has documented credible allegations of torture in Saudi prisons, including sleep deprivation, whippings, electric shocks, cigarette burns, and nail pulling. Translated from the Arabic.

“I’d heard that there were all kinds of torture: beatings, being strung up, whippings, and abuse. To be honest, this is what stopped me from coming forward before. If I’d known it was only a matter of a few simple procedures, I might have handed myself over ages ago.”

“The authorities paid for the travel expenses of my parents and siblings and put us prisoners up in a hotel in Riyadh. Our families arrived the next day, so we could give them a wonderful reception in that lovely place. But such an expense is nothing special for generous people like the authorities.”

“My friends and family had their own ideas about how I was doing. I told them, ‘I swear by God that I’m better off than when I was with you. Then, I was consumed by my own worries, but here I’m happy: I eat, drink, read, pray, and sit with my friends. I’ve got nothing to complain about, and everything is provided.’”

“We get a whole variety of things for breakfast: it’s never the same two mornings in a row. Lunch is like that, too: sometimes we get fish, sometimes chicken, sometimes meat. That’s not to mention the salads and puddings. Even supper is varied and interesting, so the prisoner never feels like he’s missing out on something. We praise God and thank Him for the fruit juice and fizzy drinks.”

“They’re always passing by and checking up on us: ‘Does the room need cleaning? We’ll clean it for you.’ ‘Do you need more bedding? Here, take some more.’ ‘Would you like us to wash your sheets?’ Just like that.”

“I love to read and found a well-stocked library when I got here. We’ve also got a soccer field and a badminton court, which we use during recreation. We can play sports or just lounge around in the sun.”

“If I need anything, or if there’s anything wrong with me—high blood pressure, for instance—the doctor and the specialist are brought in to see me. I remember when I first arrived, the bone specialist came to see me. He’s famous: a Sudanese guy at the top of his profession. I wouldn’t have a hope of getting hold of him outside prison, but, God reward them, they were able to bring him to me in less than a week.”

“As far as I know, Al-Haer is the best prison, both within Saudi Arabia and abroad. It’s the nicest building, the prisoners are treated wonderfully, and the regime is terrific.”

“It’s a great lifestyle, and they welcome any suggestions we have. I’ve been in prison in Iran and Dubai, among other places, and compared to them Al-Haer is the best.”

“When we talk about prison, we’re talking about managing our freedom, not losing it completely. It’s more like being grounded by your father.”

| View All Issues |

May 2005

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now