Skip to main content

Royal pardon for Saudi journalist sentenced to lashes

Click to play
Saudi journalist pardoned
  • Saudi king overturns journalist's sentence of 60 lashes, two-year travel ban
  • Female journalist worked on controversial TV show on sexual taboos
  • Saudi man was sentenced to five years in jail, 1,000 lashes for his role in show
  • Human Rights Watch.calls on King Abdullah to overturn that sentence too

(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has been called "The King of Hearts" by many of his countrymen, referring to what they believe are his compassionate attempts to reform his ultra-conservative kingdom.

He used his power Monday to overturn a criminal court sentence of 60 lashes and a two-year travel ban imposed on female journalist Rosanna al-Yami. Under the travel ban, she could not have left Saudi Arabia.

Al-Yami was sentenced for her work on an episode of the television show "A Thick Red Line" that featured a Saudi man who bragged about sexual escapades. The controversial show explores social taboos.

It is carried by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., for which al-Yami works as a coordinator and guest booker.

"King Abdullah's swift revocation of this punishment sends an important notice to the Saudi judicial system that it should not go after journalists for exercising free speech," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.

"King Abdullah should also overturn the sentence against the man at the center of the case, who had spoken about sex on a television show, and initiate reforms to strengthen the rights to freedom of expression and to a fair trial," Human Rights Watch said in a written statement.

In the episode, the Saudi man, Mazen Abdul Jawad, 32, bragged about his sex life. Saudi authorities put him on trial and sentenced him to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes. Shortly afterward, the court sentenced al-Yami.

Jawad's attorney, Suleiman al-Jumeii, said al-Yami was not involved in setting up the episode in which his client appeared. The lawyer said he is attempting to pursue an appeal for his client and get the case heard in a special court that deals only with media matters.

"A Thick Red Line" caused an uproar in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia, where sharia, or Islamic law, is practiced. Pre-marital sex is illegal, and unrelated men and women are not permitted to mingle.

Saudi authorities shut down Lebanese Broadcasting's offices in Jeddah and Riyadh after the interview aired a few months ago.

The king's pardon of al-Yami was unusual, but it was not the first time he has stepped in.

In late 2007, the king pardoned a woman who, although she had been gang-raped, was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for appearing in public with an unrelated male, who also was pardoned, according to the Saudi justice minister.

The king concluded in a letter pardoning the woman that her male companion, who was abducted along with her, had suffered torture along with her. Details of what happened to the two were not disclosed.

Octavia Nasr, senior editor for Middle East affairs, contributed to this report.