Homaidan Ali Al-Turki and family
[New York Sun title: The Problem of Saudi Slavery]
Homaidan Ali Al-Turki, 36, and his wife, Sarah Khonaizan, 35, appear to be a model immigrant couple. They arrived in America in 2000 and now live with their four children in an upscale Denver suburb. Mr. Al-Turki is a graduate student in linguistics at the University of Colorado, specializing in Arabic intonation and focus prosody. He donates money to the Linguistic Society of America and is chief executive of Al-Basheer Publications and Translations, a bookstore specializing in titles about Islam.
Last week, however, the FBI accused the couple of enslaving an Indonesian woman who is in her early 20s. For four years, reads the indictment, they created "a climate of fear and intimidation through rape and other means." The slave woman cooked, cleaned, took care of the children, and performed other tasks for little or no pay, fearing that if she did not obey, "she would suffer serious harm."
The two Saudis face charges of forced labor, aggravated sexual abuse, document servitude, and harboring an alien. If found guilty, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison. The government also wants to seize the couple's Al-Basheer bank account to pay their former slave $92,700 in back wages.
It's shocking, especially for a graduate student and owner of a religious bookstore - but not particularly rare. Here are other examples of enslavement, all involving Saudi royals or diplomats living in America.
In 1982, a Miami judge issued a warrant to search Prince Turki Bin Abdul Aziz's 24th-floor penthouse to determine if he was holding an Egyptian woman, Nadia Lutefi Mustafa, against her will. Mr. Turki and his French bodyguards prevented a search from taking place, then won retroactive diplomatic immunity to forestall any legal unpleasantness.
In 1988, the Saudi defense attaché in Washington, Colonel Abdulrahman S. Al-Banyan, employed a Thai domestic worker, Mariam Roungprach, until she escaped his house by crawling out a window. She later said that she had been imprisoned there, did not get enough food, and was not paid. Interestingly, her work contract specified that she could not leave the house or make telephone calls without her employer's permission.
In 1991, Prince Saad Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and his wife, Princess Noora, lived on two floors of the Ritz-Carlton in Houston. Two of their servants, Josephine Alicog of the Philippines and Sriyani Marian Fernando of Sri Lanka, filed a lawsuit against the prince, alleging they were held for five months against their will, "by means of unlawful threats, intimidation and physical force." They say they were only partially paid, were denied medical treatment, and suffered mental and physical abuse.
In March 2005, a wife of Saudi Prince Mohamed Bin Turki Alsaud, Hana Al Jader, 39, was arrested at her home near Boston on charges of forced labor, domestic servitude, falsifying records, visa fraud, and harboring aliens. Ms. Al Jader stands accused of forcing two Indonesian women to work for her by making them believe "that if they did not perform such labor, they would suffer serious harm." If convicted, Ms. Al Jader faces up to 140 years in jail and $2.5 million in fines.
There are many other similar instances, for example, the Orlando escapades of Saudi princesses Maha al-Sudairi and Buniah al-Saud. The writer Joel Mowbray tells of twelve female domestics "trapped and abused" in the households of Saudi dignitaries or diplomats.
Why is this problem so acute for affluent Saudis? Four reasons come to mind. Although slavery was abolished in the kingdom in 1962, the practice still flourishes there. Ranking Saudi religious authorities endorse slavery; for example, Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan insisted recently that "Slavery is a part of Islam" and whoever wants it abolished is "an infidel."
The U.S. State Department knows about the forced servitude in Saudi households and laws exist to combat this scourge but, as Mr. Mowbray argues, it "refuses to take measures to combat it." Finally, Saudis know they can get away with nearly any misbehavior. Their embassy provides funds, letters of support, lawyers, retroactive diplomatic immunity, former U.S. ambassadors as troubleshooters, and even keeps pesky witnesses away.
Given the American government's lax attitude toward the Saudis, slavery in Denver, Miami, Washington, Houston, Boston, and Orlando hardly comes as a surprise. Only when Washington more robustly represents American interests will Saudi behavior improve.
Oct. 22, 2005 update: I pursue the Al-Turki story at "Slave-holding and Terror Links in Colorado."
Dec. 16, 2005 update: I collect other examples at "More Slave-Holding Immigrants in the West."
Hana Al Jader, leaving a Boston courtroom.
Hana Al Jader, leaving a Boston courtroom.
Dec. 22, 2006 update: Hana Al Jader may have faced up to 140 years in jail and $2.5 million in fines for enslaving two women, and she may have pleaded guilty to two counts, but all she got was a sentence of wo years probation with six months' home confinement. She must also pay a $40,000 fine and $206,000 in restitution to her former workers; and she must forfeit her second residence in Arlington, Va. Finally, she agreed to be deported to Saudi Arabia after the six months. Al Jader's lawyers seem to have convinced the judge that incarcerating her would be unfair to her six teenage children and her husband, Prince Mohamed Al Saud, who was severely injured in a car accident in 1991. According to court papers, Al Jader receives an annual stipend of $100,000 from the Saudi royal family.