SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Saudi Arabia is a strictly Muslim country where Shariah is the law supposed to be followed by the citizens and the expats. But things are not always as clean as we wish them to be. Jeddah newspaper, Arab News, last year carried a report about the profitable business opportunities that Saudi prisons offer. Narcotic peddling under the nose of the guards, directing criminal activities over the phone from within the four walls of the prisons is common. The paper quoted Major General Ali al-Harithy, Director General of Prisons, saying that prison authorities have noticed that some inmates use mobile phones to run their criminal activities outside. Others use mobile phones to smuggle narcotics into prison premises.
Here I narrate my own personal experience:
The room was full of expatriates and some Saudis. As I entered, old timers rushed towards me – Egyptians, Afghanis, Indians and nationals of other Asian and African countries – for news from the outside world. They were keen to know if there had been a radical change in the system or if there was any truth in the rumour that Saudi Arabia was going to have an elected parliament and that the kingdom would soon become a democratic republic. My answers didn't please them.
My mobile phone and most of the cash in my pocket had been confiscated but inside I saw inmates communicating with the outside world. I was told phones were smuggled in with the connivance of the guards, cigarettes and what appeared to be addictive tablets of some sort were sold for cash. The business was brisk and cash turnover seemed high.
I paid five riyals for a call – to the British Consulate – that would normally cost one-fifth of a riyal. Cigarettes were sold for 10 riyals each whereas outside a packet of 20 costs around six riyals. I have no idea about the tablets and their Jeddah street-price but I am glad I am not an addict for I couldn't afford the habit.
There was this HGV driver from Peshawar who hadn't received his salary for six months and his employer wasn't keen to pay him either. The driver had paid 2,000 riyals to a Saudi lawyer to take his employer to court. But the employer terminated his service, revoked his sponsorship and reported the driver absconding. The driver's subsequent arrest and torture was a matter of routine. Despite his long stay in prison he is still optimistic.
A young man from Islamabad, a welder, had been offered a job in Medina but on his arrival was told that the factory had been relocated – some 50km down Tabuk highway. It was the middle of nowhere, the factory was an illegal set-up and this welder was the only worker. The little water and food that was delivered fortnightly he had to share with the camels and goats.
He tried to talk things over with his employer but he won't listen so one moonlit night the welder decided to call it a day, walked through the rugged terrain, reached the highway, hitched a ride and surrendered to the police. For a small fee of 500 riyals the police agreed to deport him. Six months have gone past but the welder is still waiting for a passage to Pakistan.
Going back to "business" in Saudi prisons, the Burmese Muslims – having been there for around three years – had developed a good working relationship with the guards. They sold soap, shampoo, razors, trousers, shirts, painkillers, toothpaste and other items. Then there were "restaurants" offering biscuits, tea and coffee. Dare-devil young men would recharge mobile phones – for a fee of 10 riyals – by tapping into the electricity wires.
All such activities take place openly but prison security personnel choose to look the other way. There is money in ignoring things. - www.shafaqna.com