One Hundred Billion Versions of Silence

Will these names be spoken by American officials this weekend in Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi, Ali Mohamed al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ashraf Fayadh?

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The president of the United States will have one hundred billion reasons after this weekend to ignore the facts about the nation he chose as his first foreign destination: Saudi Arabia. He and his already embattled administration chose Saudi Arabia as the location of his first summit abroad—rather than Canada or Mexico, which U.S. presidents traditionally visit first—for a photo op: the president with King Salman and a game-show-style giant check between them.

The United States and Saudi Arabia will announce this weekend that Saudi Arabia will purchase at least $100 billion worth of military equipment, software, and ongoing expertise from American military contractors. Some military business experts estimate that after a decade the deals will be worth three hundred billion dollars.

“The customer is always right,” goes the old retail cliché, and there are two parts to a customer’s continual rightness: the customer has a right to complain about the product purchased or the service in the store no matter what, and the service has a duty to remain silent about the customer’s behavior, even when it is offensive.
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To Dream a Dream …

Bravery is a skill. I do not know if I have cultivated it in myself. Bravery is, of course, not what one does in the absence of fear but what one can do—what one actually does—when fear is present. Accept fear, move forward, change the world.

[A comment: Today is March 22, 2017. I wrote the first draft of this column more than eighteen months ago. Sadly, the only update to offer today is this one: All the parties described herein are, simply, even more brave than they were several months ago. Ali remains in prison. His father posts updates on Facebook each week and sometimes more frequently. We learned last summer that he earned a university degree while in prison. Dawood al-Marhoon and Abed allahhassan al-Zaher also remain in prison. Raif Badawi remains in prison. He has begun to learn of the global movement that has grown around the fight to free him. Back to the column from October 2015:]
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Five Birthdays in a Saudi Prison

“I spoke to Ali a few days ago and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, mom. My birthday next year will be far more beautiful.'”—Nasrah al-Ahmed, Ali al-Nimr’s mother, in a letter published today by Amnesty International.

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Ali Mohammed al-Nimr turned 22 on Wednesday, December 21. It was his fifth birthday spent in prison. It was his third birthday on death row in Saudi Arabia.

There are two things about Ali al-Nimr that we know today (January 24, 2017), and they are the same two sad, maddening things that we know about Ali every day: He remains in prison in Saudi Arabia and he is awaiting his fate. He still phones his father and mother once a week, which his father reports to the world via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He is continuing his college studies in prison.

Reprieve, the international human rights organization, created a page for people to sign a birthday card for Ali. This is the link: Wish Ali al-Nimr a Happy Birthday. In less than five days, the number of signatures on it has climbed to more than 16,100.
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Speculation About Saudi Plans

Is Ali al-Nimr About to Be Executed?

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There are two things about Ali Mohammed al-Nimr that we know today (December 6, 2016), and they are the same two sad, maddening things that we know about Ali al-Nimr every day: He remains in prison and he is awaiting his fate. Anything else, everything else, is speculation. Today, speculation about Ali al-Nimr is drowning out the few things we actually know.

Ali al-Nimr is the young Saudi protester who faces a sentence of death by beheading followed by a posthumous crucifixion (the public display of his dead body), and we know one other solidly reported thing about him today: he phoned home this morning.
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Dear Amnesty: Stop Crying Wolf

Is the human rights organization’s fundraising placing lives in danger? An article by Mark Aldrich and Raymond Johansen

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“They aren’t your money train. They are human beings.” Raymond Johansen, an activist and Anon who has been fighting for freedom for human rights prisoners around the world for years, has spent the last two weeks trying to protect three young prisoners in Saudi Arabia from Amnesty International’s clumsy embrace.

Two weeks ago, this headline appeared on Amnesty International’s website and its many Facebook and Twitter accounts: “Families Fear Their Sons Will Be Executed Within 24 Hours.” The three sons in question—Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher—are also featured on Reprieve’s “Urgent” death penalty cases page. Interviews with Ali al-Nimr’s family will be featured in a PBS Frontline documentary, “Saudi Arabia Uncovered,” that will be broadcast on March 29.

Indeed, the three officially remain on death row in Saudi Arabia, so their lives are in the hands of that nation’s judiciary. The world is watching. However, in October 2015, that nation assured Phillip Hammond, the British Foreign Minister, that Ali will not be executed, and Mr. Hammond did the unprecedented and announced this in bold and clear language: “I do not expect Mr al-Nimr to be executed.”

Might Saudi Arabia renege on this promise? It might. Had Amnesty International, Reprieve, or the families of the three youths learned something new two weeks ago? They had not. And yet that phrase, “Families fear their sons will be executed within 24 hours,” has propagated on Twitter and Facebook, usually with a link to an Amnesty action page (signature and donations welcome).
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Help #SaveThe3

If the United States government truly stands for freedom and democracy, it must stop Saudi Arabia from carrying out this egregious violation of basic human rights. It must pressure King Salman to release all political prisoners, including Ali Mohamed al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, who were all minors at the time of their arrest.—a petition, “Ban Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia Until They End Juvenile Executions”

An online friend of this website, Esha P., started a petition today to demand the United States to “Ban Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia Until They End Juvenile Executions” via the activist website (Full disclosure: mine is the third signature on it.) I urge readers to sign it, too.
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#SaveThe3: The World Is Watching

The fear that the executions of three young men arrested by Saudi Arabian authorities while they were juveniles are imminent may be legitimate and the reasons for applying pressure on the Saudi government to spare their lives ought to be kept front and center in activists’ minds each day, but a clear eye and caution must be maintained while interpreting the pronouncements of the Saudi judicial system.

It was striking that Amnesty International and Reprieve, two organizations that are tenacious human rights defenders but also cautious as organizations, on Friday began to publicize fears that the three executions were hours away from taking place, given that the fears came from a single source: an article in a Saudi newspaper, Okaz.

One can hazard a guess as to the effect this publicity had on the families and loved ones of Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ali Mohammad al-Nimr: on one hand, it may have been heartening to witness the world bearing witness with speed and ferocity, as the #SaveThe3 hashtag started trending on Twitter, but it also may have given needless vitality to the fears for the worst outcomes that the families already live with every day. The three were sentenced to death last year, and, for the families each day opens and closes with the knowledge of this in their hearts.

A source reported to me this afternoon that Ali spoke with his family by phone on Friday, and that Abdullah spoke with his family today, Sunday, March 13.
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