About a decade ago, I was offered the opportunity to interview Abdallah bin Yahya Al-Moallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the UN, while he was in St. Louis. I have a long history of speaking out against Saudi Arabia, our "partner in peace," so I agreed to have him in the studio only if there were no conditions, no topics I had to avoid. His people agreed, but afterwards, they were not happy with me.
During the conversation, I pressed him repeatedly on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, particularly towards women. I asked why his country didn't do more to take military action against bad regimes in the Middle East. I questioned whether the US would suck up to the Saudis if they didn't have oil. I asked why the Saudi government would not allow any kind of political dissent or popular elections.
The ambassador tried to weasel out of every question I raised, at one point claiming that Saudi Arabia was about to announce free and open elections for municipalities across the kingdom, and that both men and women would be allowed to make their own choices at the ballot box. That never happened.
Fast forward to this year to see that the Saudi government is still dealing harshly with anyone who dares speak out against the royal theocracy that runs the nation. In January, it publicly executed 48 people who had spoken out against its oppression of the minority Shia population. Earlier this month, it sentenced a writer to six years in prison for "insulting the state and its rulers."
Last week, Saudi Arabia sentenced journalist Alaa Brinji to five years in prison over a series of tweets. According to Amnesty International,
He was convicted by Saudi Arabia’s notorious counter-terrorism court, known as the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), on a range of charges, including "insulting the rulers of the country," "inciting public opinion," "accusing security officers of killing protestersin Awamiyya," "ridiculing Islamic religious figures," and "violating Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law." The court also ordered the closure of his Twitter account. All of these charges stem from tweets he posted online some of which were in support of Saudi Arabian women’s right to drive cars, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.Friday night, Al Jazeera aired a piece about Saudi Arabia's involvement in Yemen and Syria. It was done by journalist Mehdi Hasan, who sat down with Al-Moallimi and asked questions similar to mine. As you'll see in the excerpt below, the ambassador is still giving the same non-answers...
- My conversation with Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch on women arrested for driving while Saudi (1/1/15).
- My piece on an American businesswoman thrown in jail for sitting next to a man in Starbucks in Saudi Arabia (2/8/08).
- My conversation with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about why the US doesn't press the Saudis about women's rights (1/15/08).
- My conversation with Gerald Posner about his book, "Secrets Of The Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-US Connection" (5/18/05).