While the UN devotes its human rights operations to the demonization of the democratic state of Israel above all others and condemns the United States more often than the vast majority of non-democracies around the world, the voices of real victims around the world must be heard.
"King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did the right thing when he pardoned the "Qatif girl." The perfect injustice of the case, in which a young woman was gang raped and then sentenced to 200 lashes for being alone in a car with a man to whom she was not married, left him no choice. Now another ugly face of Saudi justice has been revealed, one that cannot be explained by religion, ancient tradition or culture. The detention last month of an outspoken blogger, Fouad al-Farhan - only confirmed by the Interior Ministry this week - is an act of thoroughly modern despotism and one the king should immediately overrule.
Mr. Farhan's Web site, www.alfarhan.org, has posted a letter from him in which he said he was being investigated because of his writings about political prisoners. If King Abdullah is really serious about reforming his kingdom's legal system, as he has indicated that he is, then he must change not only the Sharia-based courts but also the organs of state security that silence critics in his name.
King Abdullah's announced reforms include the creation of a Supreme Court as well as specialized courts for criminal, commercial, labor and family matters, and the training of legal staff. These plans have been especially welcomed by foreigners doing business in Saudi Arabia, who have been hamstrung by the capriciousness of the religious judges.
The case of the woman from the Eastern town of Qatif should make clear to the king that his reforms cannot stop at making life easier for businessmen. They must also make life far better for women, who are denied basic legal and social rights, and they must give more legal protection to those who criticize the government.
Defenders of the existing Saudi system argue that change in this traditional society must come slowly. Many Saudis are clearly eager for more and faster change. A Gallup poll conducted last year showed that a majority want more freedoms for women. King Abdullah has demonstrated a laudable desire for reform. He must understand that cruelty, sex discrimination and censorship cannot be part of a modern legal system or a country that wants to participate in the modern world.
When President Bush visits Saudi Arabia this month, he should remind the king of that."