SAUDI ARABIA: King pardons female journalist sentenced to 60 lashes
Twenty-two-year-old Rozanna Yami was sentenced by a court Saturday to 60 lashes for helping to produce the controversial July episode of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.’s Bold Red Line talk show in which guest Mazen Abdul-Jawad boasted publicly about his sex life in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
On Monday, King Abdullah intervened in the case and granted Yami a royal pardon. The reporter expressed relief over the king’s overruling of her sentence and thanked him.
"The king has vindicated me. I am satisfied with the king's order, and I accept the decisions of the sovereign," she told Reuters news agency.
Abdul-Rahman Hazzaa, a spokesman for the Saudi information ministry, said the royal pardon meant that Yami’s case now will be transferred to the ministry for further review and possible disciplinary action.
"They will transfer the case to the ministry of information. ... In this case, the flogging has been dropped,” Hazza was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Abdul-Jawad, 32, a divorced father living in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port city of Jeddah, was sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes earlier this month for “incitement to sin” over his sexual boasts on air. Abdul-Jawad described his sexual exploits in detail on the ill-fated episode, beginning with when he had sex with his neighbor at age 14.
He bragged about his foreplay tricks and how he used Bluetooth cellphone messaging to pick up women on the streets of Jeddah.
He was shown in his bedroom, which was decorated in red, surrounded by sex toys with the theme song from the movie “Swingers” playing in the background.
In one instance, Abdul-Jawad whipped out a sex toy and waved it before the camera.
This public display did not go down well with the Saudi authorities, who, as in many other Muslim countries, restrict sexual content on television and in print publications such as newspapers and books.
Three of Abdul-Jawad’s male friends who appeared on the show with him also were sentenced to jail terms and 300 lashes each. As for Yami, the reporter denied she had anything to do with the taboo-breaking LBC talk show episode. "I had nothing to do with Mazen Abdul-Jawad's show," she told Reuters over the weekend. "The verdict was just because I cooperated with LBC."
King Abdullah reportedly ordered the case of Yami and another reporter -- a pregnant woman also accused of having a role in the LBC program -- be referred to a committee of the Saudi ministry of education and culture, which handles media issues.
Saudi blogger Ahmed Al-Omran, who moderates the popular Saudi Jeans blog, told The Times in an e-mail that he expected Yami to be pardoned and that her case would be referred to the ministry, just like a previous case involving a Saudi columnist.
“I have to say that I was pretty much expecting that she will get a sort of pardon and the sentence won't be carried on," he wrote.
Courts in Saudi Arabia, which adheres to a strict version of Islamic law, are largely controlled by clerics with wide discretion in defining actions deemed criminal and setting measures of punishment, including lashes and the death penalty.
New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, or HRW, welcomed the royal pardon in a press statement, saying it “sent an important message to the country’s courts."
HRW also called on King Abdullah to overrule the sentence imposed on Abdul-Jawad.
Despite the royal pardon, Yami says her life remains a nightmare, that she feels like she has been given a social death sentence for being involved with the scandal-ridden show.
"I am not a heroine," she told Al-Arabiya TV. "I am just an ordinary human being. Society sentenced me to death before the judge even passed sentence."
Following the row over the talk show episode, the Saudi authorities pulled the plug on LBC in the kingdom. The channel’s offices in Riyadh and Jeddah were forced shut shortly after the episode's airing.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Saudi reporter Rozanna Yami. Credit: Saeed Shamaa / EPA