It is no secret to anyone who has read or heard anything about the case of Mohamed Kohail and Mehanna Sa’d can safely say that they have been dealt an unfair hand in Saudi Arabia.
After the story broke several months ago, the international outrage that followed is nothing new in the long line of incidents similar to this one, where punishments have been dealt unfairly in comparison to the cases.
The Saudi judicial system is fickle at best. Amnesty international reports that many cases, which go to trial, have sentences carried out mostly on confessions or witness testimony obtained through forced means.
Saudi Arabia’s court system is based on the Islamic holy book the Quran, so all judgments and punishments come from a theocratic basis and not a civil law basis, which makes quantifying them outside the country rather difficult.
Kohail’s case suffers from this exact problem. The evidence presented during the case was simply unacceptably biased and the lawyer representing Kohail and the other parties involved was only present for a fraction of the trial.
However the main problem with this entire situation – barring the verdict of the court – is the media’s ineptitude to properly report on the issue. Many of the Arabic websites and newspapers have only done half the work of reporting on the issue, which made the issue inflammatory because of how emotional such a situation is.
Several university students I spoke to knew little about the entire situation and most believed it involved the death of a Saudi from a knife wound.
“I don’t really understand what happened, from what I read it was confusing,” said Mazim, who only wanted to be identified by his first name. “If he really killed the other guy, then he should have to answer for it, but not a beheading, we aren’t in the stone age anymore,” said Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a local university student.
“I got most of my information about the case from Facebook group dedicated to his release. Other than that I don’t trust the Arabic press because of the lackluster reporting,” said Aziz, another local university student.
This random sampling of students demonstrates the problem with this entire case. Saudi Arabia’s rumor mill is a not a mill, but a diesel-powered factory. Due to the lack of things to do in the “magic Kingdom” rumors spread like wildfire.
Many Saudis support Kohail’s execution not because they think he deserves it, but because for the most part the Arabic media did a sloppy job in reporting the facts.
To put it into context every story that is written in the West has to have at least three sources so that any information given can be verified for authenticity. Here, a one-source story is perfectly acceptable therefore, hearsay and false information manages to weasel its way into the news, which in the end hurts everyone and makes victims like Kohail become victims of something they have no control over.
In actuality the entire situation was an accident and the autopsy report of the coroner who examined the deceased stated in the report that the deceased died of a complication of the heart and not aggravated assault as the Saudi courts would have most believe.
In Canada I am told the case reached a frenzied level of attention. Over here where the crime actually happened it was nothing more than another “oh did you hear” moment. Newspapers who reported on the story did not give it front-page status, from what I’ve seen it was buried inside as another crime story.
For a country that already has so many other problems, including one of the highest growing unemployment rates, homegrown terrorism and a fledgling economy because of a weak dollar, I would hope that Saudis would learn to be more responsible with their judicial system and the lives it affects.
Michael Bou-Nacklie has worked for several of the major English newspapers in Saudi Arabia. He is currently the head of the local section of the Saudi Gazette, based in Jeddah. His work has taken him to Iraq, Afghanistan and the West Bank. He has been wounded in action twice in Iraq and the West Bank. He is back in Saudi Arabia after a brief stint in Baghdad recording the events of the recent unrest between Shiite militants and Iraqi security forces. He keeps a photoblog on Saudi Arabia at mbnphotography.blogspot.com.