Controversial analyst and commentator Zaid Hamid aka ‘Lal Topi Wala’ has been sentenced for eight years in jail and 1,000 lashes by a Saudi court under new stringent laws which had been promulgated last year by the Kingdom to broaden the definition of terrorism to include any act which is intended to insult the reputation of the state, harm public order or destabilise the security of the society.
Although, the Foreign Office circles in Islamabad have little information about the nature of the sentence handed down to Zaid Hamid, well-informed diplomatic circles say he has been convicted for his outburst against the Saudi government after being declared an enemy of the Kingdom. “As per the Saudi law, Zaid is set to be publicly lashed 50 times a week for 20 weeks”. Zaid was arrested from Makkah in June during a private visit to the Kingdom with his second wife. His arrest was confirmed by the Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah at a press briefing in Islamabad on June 26, saying that the embassy was working with the local authorities to get consular access. He was nabbed after a Saudi citizen reported his controversial speeches with regard to the Saudi-Yemen conflict to the authorities. Zaid allegedly lambasted the Kingdom over the ongoing conflict with Yemen besides accusing the Saudi rulers of giving financial support to al-Qaeda and ISIS in the region.
After a speedy trial under the new Saudi legislation that was introduced in April 2014 in the Basic Law of Governance by the Kingdom, a Saudi court sentenced Zaid for eight years in jail and 1,000 lashes.
The new set of laws expanded the definition of terrorism to include any act that is intended to insult the reputation of the state, harm public order or destabilise the security of the Saudi society. These laws were introduced by the former Saudi King Abdullah in a bid to come down hard on all forms of dissent and protests that could harm public order. But the Saudi authorities were of the view that the new laws were brought in to combat the growing number of Saudis travelling to take part in the war in Syria, who have previously returned with newfound training and ideas about overthrowing the monarchy.
To that end, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud [who passed away in January 2015] had issued Royal Decree A/44 which criminalised participating in hostilities outside the kingdom with prison sentences. The Saudi citizens were ordered to return home from fighting in the Syrian conflict within 15 days or face jail time from three to 20 years.
The new legislation identified a broad list of groups, which the government considered to be terrorist organisations — including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Hezbollah in the Saudi Kingdom, Yemen’s Houthi Movement, and all branches of Al-Qaeda, including the Al-Nusra Front. The new legislation specifically defined who is and is not a terrorist or terroristorganisation in the eyes of the law. And Zaid Hamid has been arrested and convicted by the Saudi authorities under the same legislation. To be specific, informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad say, Zaid has been charged under Article 2, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 11 of the new Saudi laws promulgated in April 2014.
According to Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organisation, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside the Kingdom.”
Article 4 states: “Anyone who aids terrorist groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form.”
According to the article of the Saudi laws: “Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.” Article 8 states: “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”
According to Article 9: “Attending conferences, seminars, or meetings inside or outside the Kingdom targeting the security of society, or sowing discord in society.” And last but not the least, Article 11 states: “Inciting or making countries, committees, or international organisations antagonistic to the kingdom.”
Zaid has been often criticised for his controversial views, which have been slammed as conspiracy theories. He has been accused by his detractors of promoting hate speech. He had established himself as a contentious commentator when he started taking part in a Pakistani TV show — Brasstacks. His father Lt Col. Zaman Hamid (retd) had served in the Pakistan Army while Zaid had received a Bachelor of Engineering degree in computer systems engineering from the NED University, Karachi. Zaid is no stranger to controversy, with his comments on social media platforms and TV talk shows often inviting the ire of Pakistani liberals and the civil society, whom he dismisses as “agents” of the enemy state. Zaid is well known for his anti-India tirade. Shortly before his arrest in Saudi Arabia, he had endorsed the alleged policy of the Pakistani intelligence establishment to use spy pigeons against India in response to the Cold Start Doctrine of the Indian Army. He had made this statement after the Indian police arrested a pigeon, which it alleged was a Pakistani spy. Although the Pakistani authorities had refuted the allegation, Zaid said that due to its resemblance with Allama Iqbal’s Shaheen, the pigeon has symbolic importance in neutralising the effects of the cultural war being waged by India against Pakistan. He added that pigeons would play a central role in Ghazva-e-Hind. He used to bring himself into the limelight by using conspiracy as a tool, which has eventually landed him in a Saudi prison.
A resident of the Chaklala Scheme-3 in the Cantt area of Rawalpindi, Zaid Hamid was equally critical of the Sharif government and had been demanding of the establishment to overthrow the civilian set-up. At a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on November 20, 2013, a former follower and employee of Zaid Hamid [Immad Khalid] had accused him of plotting to assassinate the then army chief General Kayani and instigating a revolt in the armed forces through emails he sent to thousands of officers. He said his former boss had compiled a ‘hit list’, including the names of the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others from the media and the judiciary. But Zaid had strongly refuted the allegation.