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News Analysis

Report: Saudi Court Releases Imam Who Raped, Murdered 5-Yr. Old Daughter

Tue, February 5, 2013

Ryan Mauro

Revolutions and irresistible movements for change don’t happen spontaneously. They are “sparked” by a dramatic moment. In Saudi Arabia, such a “spark” may have been lit. News reports say Islamist preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi has admitted to torturing and murdering his five-year old daughter, Lama, and is walking away a free man. He even still has custody of his two other children. And now, Saudi activists are taking a stand.

Al-Ghamdi, whose extremist preaching was often on Saudi television, was originally accused of abusing Lama last April. That attack was so vicious that she suffered a fractured skull and brain damage. Tragically, he was still permitted access to her, leading to her death in December.

He was then arrested in November after Lama died. He admits responsibility and says his assault began because he suspected her, a mere five-year old, of losing her virginity. A social worker said she was “raped” everywhere, but her mother says that part of the story isn’t true. Lama was beaten with electric shocks, whips and an iron. Her skull was crushed. Her back and arms were broken. Her ribs were fractured. The hospital said al-Ghamdi even tried to burn her rectum closed.

Al-Ghamdi has reportedly been released, but a member of the Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission told CNN that he’s been in prison for eight months on accusations of torture that led to Lama's death, implying that he was still in jail. CNN says attempts to reach Saudi activits, government officials and Kind Saud hospital were unsuccessful.

The Saudi judge ruled that his short time in jail was adequate punishment, as long as he paid $50,000 in “blood money” to his ex-wife, who is Lama’s mother. That amount is half of the money that would be required if Lama had been a boy. Saudi national laws prevent a father from being executed for murdering his children or his wife, activists told Al-Jazeera.

Shockingly, al-Ghamdi’s other two children have not not been taken away from him, says Lama’s mother.

The three Saudi human rights activists say that the incident has struck a nerve in the country. They have begun a Twitter campaign where users are bringing attention to the case with the hashtag “AnaLama,” meaning “I am Lama” in English.

A Twitter campaign sounds like something that can be dismissed, but it is worth recalling the power of social networking in sustaining the revolutions in the region that have been called the “Arab Spring.” One of the activists, Manal al-Sharif, got global attention in 2011 when she videotaped herself driving a vehicle in defiance of the Saudi ban. She is a popular activist, and if she says that a movement is growing, it is worth listening.

The Saudi government apparently is worried and says it will set up a 24-hour hotline for phone calls reporting child abuse. That is far from what is needed to make amends. The next hearing in the case will be held in two weeks, generating another round of outrage-inducing headlines.

The ingredients exist in Saudi Arabia for social upheaval. In December 2010, Stephen Schwartz of the Center for Islamic Pluralism told me that there exists a “conflict between the younger generation seeking reform and the Wahhabi clerics.” In an interview with ClarionProject.org, Dr. Ali Alyami of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, seemed to agree. He explained that there has been a “gradual disconnect from the past, religion and a new perception of the world.”

King Abdullah, who has reformist tendencies when compared with the more hardline Wahhabists, senses the change. On January 11, he appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, which can draft laws for approval by him. The Saudi government recently decided to allow women to work in pharmacies.

A powerful movement for change may give him the confidence to move forward in enacting more far-reaching reform despite Islamist opposition. The West, however, must stand behind the Saudi activists in seizing this moment.

In 2009, the brutal shooting of Neda Soltan made her the face of the Iranian opposition. In 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia set off the “Arab Spring.” In June 2011, the torturing and murdering of a 13-year old boy named Hamza al-Khatib sparked protests in his name in Syria. In 2013, Lama’s name may became synonymous with an unstoppable movement for change in Saudi Arabia.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.