x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Judge sues over 'slap women' story

A Saudi judge denies saying some women deserve to be slapped but the reporter he wants punished for attributing the remark to him and her employer stand by their article.

Arab News, the Jeddah-based newspaper, is defending its reporter over the accuracy of an article.
Arab News, the Jeddah-based newspaper, is defending its reporter over the accuracy of an article.

RIYADH // A Saudi judge has asked a court to bar a female reporter from media work and punish her "as the court may see fit" because he says she misquoted him as saying that women who overspend while shopping "deserve" to be slapped by their husbands. Judge Hamad al Razine has also asked the court to order Hayat al Ghamdi, a reporter for the Jeddah-based Arab News, to pay all lawyers' fees in the case, according to Mr al Razine's lawyer.

In using "untrue" quotes and taking the judge's comments out of context, Ms al Ghamdi has shown that she is "not committed to the fundamentals of her profession and has damaged the judicial authority as well as journalism in Saudi Arabia," the attorney, Mohammad A al Zamil, said in an interview. Arab News editors, who declined the judge's pre-lawsuit demand for a retraction of Ms al Ghamdi's article, are defending their reporter in court.

"It's unfortunate that this judge is wasting so much time and effort when he could be doing a lot of good things," said Khaled al Maeena, editor in chief of Arab News. The court case is "a matter of saving face" because "the judge probably got a lot of criticism from other judges" for his remarks, said Somayya A Jabarti, the paper's managing editor. "It's going to backfire on him, to be honest - At the end of the day, [the reporter] is not lying. She just described what happened."

The judge's court action arises from a story last May in which Ms al Ghamdi quoted Mr al Razine as saying: "If a person gives 1,200 riyals to his wife and she spends 900 riyals to purchase an abaya from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment." According to the article, the judge added that women's indecent behaviour and use of offensive words against their husbands were contributing to a rise in domestic violence and yet "nobody puts even a fraction of blame on" women.

Mr al Razine made his comments during a seminar held to raise public awareness about domestic violence and specifically on the roles of the judiciary and police in curbing it. His words "evoked an immediate reaction from the women in the audience who loudly protested", according to Ms al Ghamdi's article. Princess Adela bint Abdullah, a daughter of King Abdullah, was at the seminar. The princess is active in the government's campaign to address the problem of domestic violence.

Ms Al Ghamdi was present at the forum, held in the town of Abha, but did not record the judge's remarks, Ms Jabarti said. However the paper has interviewed women in the audience who confirmed on tape that the article correctly reported what the judge said, Jabarti added. Khalid Mohammed, a senior associate in Mr al Zamil's law firm, translated for Mr al Zamil during a phone interview about the case. In discussing domestic violence, Mr al Zamil said, Mr al Razine "brought some examples of what happened in courts".

One example was a case heard by a colleague of the judge that involved a man who slapped his wife because she spent 900 riyals (Dh880) on an abaya, Mr al Zamil explained. Mr al Razine "didn't approve" of the man's violence, his attorney said, but "he brought that example to show that there is [family] violence in Saudi Arabia". Mr al Zamil said the judge went on to talk about reasons for violence in families, which can include "the little education some families have and their weak economic situation [and how] some children and wives are not [always] as responsible as they should be, so that may lead to domestic violence - It's not right, but [Mr al Razine] said this is what is going on."

Mr al Zamil added that "we have some proofs" of what the judge said because the seminar was videotaped and the recording will be presented in court. Arab News contends that the judge, who is based in Jeddah, should have filed his complaint with the ministry of information, according to regulations governing the national media. "We are responsible. We are the ones who [published] the article. He should deal with us" rather than with an individual reporter," Ms Jabarti said.

Mr al Zamil said the judge filed a personal lawsuit against al Ghamdi because her misquoting him is a "private matter". The case has been referred to the Supreme Judicial Council because it settles disputes over jurisdiction in court cases. Ms Al Ghamdi, who has three children, has worked for Arab News for about four years, first as a freelancer and more recently as a staff writer. "I know that the law is on my side and will protect me. We have evidence that will exonerate me of any charge he is claiming," she said in a telephone interview.

The incident, she added, "has made me more persistent and determined in my job". cmurphy@thenational.ae