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Monday, November 9, 2009

When Photography Becomes A Form of Terrorism


"My friend smarting from his experience, reasserted that he is a photographer and not a terrorist!"

November 7, 2009 at around 7:30 pm, when we had a brush with Saudi authorities, albeit literally. The timing could be that so bad. We were on our way home from the office, when my friend chanced upon a prospective subject for his photoblog. We parked our car nearby, and started the shoot.

Little did we know, a police patrol passed by and tracked us down. We did not have any single inclination that the police would give us a chase, as we were pretty aware, we did not violate any Saudi law nor offended anyone. But the sight of the police car blocking our way gave me a hellish sensation, knowing how the Saudi police treat expatriates. I kept myself composed. I was not panicking. "If we were to be interrogated, there would be no reason for us to be arrested", I said to myself.

The police then wasted no time searching our car, took our iqamas ( Saudi labor card), and confiscated my friend's camera-a Canon EOS 450D. Sensing a big trouble at hand, I started to call our office. But unfortunately for me, before I could contact the office, one of the officers snatched my cellphone and playfully started to figure out how to operate it. My cellphone unit is SonyEricsson K850i.

One fat police officer began his interrogation. "What were you doing, why were you taking pictures?" I replied in my best Arabic," Sir, this is for my friend's photoblog supposedly for his black and white series." Who would care then, when he did not understand a thing or two from my explanation? What had transpired subsequently, was an endless jabberwocky.

It did not take long however, before we were dragged inside the police car, and to my horror we were handcuffed like criminals. It was very humiliating, as hordes of people started to swarm and witness a spectacle. On the way to the police station in Aziziyah, these two policemen did not waste time searching for any piece of evidence against us. To their frustration, all they could see from our cellphones were pictures of our families and our visual merchandising files.

At the police station, the gadgets they seized from us were turned over to the desk officer. After which, we were literally pushed inside the detention cell. Inside the stinky cell were different nationalities, notably Bangladeshis with petty cases. One Yemeni inmate was a driver and his case was overloading, as he narrated to us. But he couldn't be released because the police was asking for a bribe from his sponsor worth Sr. 1000.

Inside the cell, I offered to pay Sr.10 to a Bangladeshi guy for a call to our office. Our HR people were quick though to act. We were almost 4 hours inside, when we were eventually released. I really thanked God that our predicament was over. I inquired about our supposed crime and our liaison officer told us, it was an anti-terrorism measure for taking photographs. "Are you kidding me?" Yes, a violation of the Saudi government's anti-terrorism law! That's completely nonsense!But that's the truth. And why it took us so long to be released? Because the bribe was too much at Sr.1,500!

My friend smarting from his experience, reasserted that he is a photographer and not a terrorist! One thing I did realize was, when you get apprehended by the police in Saudi Arabia for a police's self-authored crime; one's detention time varies on how quick your sponsor is able to pay bribes at a bargained price. This is quite a story for me in Saudi Arabia, so that when I go back home I will be grateful enough to tell my tales of being an OFW.


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4 comments:

Susie of Arabia said...

OMG!!! I take photos ALL the time for my photo blog. Unless you were taking pics of a government building or members of the royal family, as far as I understand, it's perfectly legal for you tot take photos in public. I'm glad that your sponsor paid the ransom and you were released!

Nelson Fontanilla Bedayo said...

That's the sad part Susie. Everything should have been deemed perfectly legal just the way you saw it. But because racism has been a way of life here in Saudi Arabia, we were not that surprised. Unfortunately for us, the police manifested their real agenda and the institution they're representing. SR1,500 was a hefty amount though, for a day's skillful way of apprehending "terrorists".

Timo said...

Sorry to hear about your ordeal. I'm also a photoblogger in KSA. I am saudi of syrian origins. Your story sure does confirm an unspoken fear I've had about outdoor photography in ksa. I've always been apprehensive about taking photos out in the open here. I usually restrict my work to my studio or indoors generally. I definitely do not feel safe to run about taking photos without a care like i do abroad. I am certain your nationality didn't help your cause either. Thats for the post and for shedding some light on the degree of police corruption.

Pinaywriter said...

Oh dear God. I had suggested that my friend bring her camera to where her dad works and take pictures. Gesh. That explains why she didn't bring it there. (They're there for a vacation now) *facepalm*

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