The Foreign Service Journal - September 2014 - page 62

62
SEPTEMBER 2014
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
AFSA NEWS
Trials Offer Window into Saudi Judicial System
AFSA CONSTRUCT I VE D I SSENT AWARDS : THE W. AVEREL L HARR IMAN AWARD
FOR AN ENTRY-LEVEL FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER
As a first-tour political/
economic officer in Dhah-
ran, Saudi Arabia, one of
William “Ed” O’Bryan’s
primary responsibilities was
the human rights portfolio.
Among his duties was moni-
toring the protests in the
minority Shia communities
of the Eastern Province that
led to the arrest of hundreds
of demonstrators and human
rights activists.
O’Bryan felt it was
important for the embassy to
attend the protesters’ trials
(something it hadn’t done in
recent memory) for a num-
ber of reasons. “First, there
was a significant number of
peaceful activists on trial
in early 2013, and when the
verdicts started coming in,
they were shockingly harsh,”
O’Bryan says.
“At the same time, there
were protests in very con-
servative areas by women
with relatives who had been
imprisoned, sometimes
without charges, which
highlighted how galvanizing
issues related to the judicial
system could be,” he adds.
In light of this, O’Bryan
says he felt the mission
needed as much insight into
the judicial process as pos-
sible to better understand
the events in the country.
O’Bryan’s initial request to
attend the trials was rejected
due to the long-standing
belief that perceived U.S.
support for activists would
only make their situations
worse. But he was not
discouraged. “Actually, I was
very encouraged, particu-
larly by Consul General Joey
Hood’s support,” he says.
“He not only used my points
in helping to advocate for
attending the trials, but
strongly built on them.”
He found the same kind
of support from the Riyadh
human rights officer, Daniel
Boehmer, who had done
“phenomenal work in opening
channels to human rights
activists and in managing the
bureaucratic side of attending
these trials,” O’Bryan notes.
After a few months of
deliberation, the mission
agreed and O’Bryan became
the first officer to attend a
human rights trial in Saudi
Arabia’s Specialized Crimi-
nal Court, which had been
established to
try terrorism
suspects.
“The mis-
sion now has
a window into
the Saudi
judicial system,”
O’Bryan says.
“Having this
insight improves
our understand-
ing of the Saudi
Arabian govern-
ment and its
dynamic with
various groups,
and thus can
greatly inform
our bilateral
dialogue.”
Observing
trials has also
strengthened
connections to Saudi
human rights activists.
As O’Bryan notes, they
“see the mission as
taking their work more
seriously and are thus
more interested in work-
ing with us.”
“It was certainly a
difficult decision for the
embassy’s leadership,
especially at a time of
tense relations between
the two countries,” O’Bryan
acknowledges. “But they
deserve a lot of credit for
looking at all the arguments
and making the tough call.”
On receiving the award,
he says: “I consider what I
did closer to advocacy than
dissent, but I am humbled by
the award and I am happy to
bring attention to this issue. I
also hope it encourages oth-
ers to speak up for what they
think is right.”
Prior to joining the State
Department in 2011, William
O’Bryan spent 12 years as
part-owner of Andrews Mon-
ument Works in Nebraska
City, Neb. He volunteered
for a year with the United
Nations Global Compact
project in Minsk, Belarus.
He is married and has two
daughters.
n
(Above) Ed O’Bryan attends a cultural
forum in Qatif, Saudi Arabia. (Below)
O’Bryan at the June 18 awards ceremony.
AFSA/JOAQUINSOSA
COURTESYOFEDO’BRYAN
1...,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61 63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70,71,72,...88
Powered by FlippingBook