Ken and Jess had their hands cuffed behind their backs
again. This time five police came and escorted them out of their adjoining
cells to a room at the end of the dusty, gritty hall. They were led in and made
to stand facing three men seated at a table. They recognized the police chief
who had locked them up the previous night. The man on the far left was dressed
as a religious Mullah. He was old and his face cruel.
The man in the centre was the most imposing. He was aged
about mid-fifties and dressed as a full Arab sheik with the head dress and the
robes. Before them lay sheaves of papers all with Arabic characters. The police
chief began reading from his papers. Although Ken and Jess could not understand
him they knew it was list of charges being levelled against them by the police.
Finally he looked up at them:
“For your information I will translate the charges.
1. The Western woman was detected in the
street shortly after midnight by the religious police in a state of indecency.
That she had her arms exposed and her head uncovered.
2. The Western man was in charge of her and
allowed her to remain uncovered in the street.
3. The Western man resisted the holy religious police
when they began caning the indecently clad woman in the correct manner allowed
by religious law.
4. The Western man attacked and assaulted the
holy religious police insulting and injuring three of them.
5. The Western man resisted arrest by the
civic police force.
6. On arrest the Western man and woman were found to be
illegally outside the designated transit area of the airport without a visa or
a religious permission.
7. They are charged with making, possessing
and importing indecent material against the laws of this holy land. The Western
man admitted that the camera in his possession was his and that he took the
pictures of this woman.”
Here the police chief held up their digital camera and
displayed on its screen snapshots of Jess in a bikini on the beach. Ordinary
honeymoon snaps but also a couple Ken had taken of Jess in her negligee in the
He passed the camera to the Sheik who studied it
carefully and then passed it to the Mullah who frowned deeply. They conversed
in Arabic again until Ken interjected;
“Excuse me gentlemen I have no wish to be rude but do we
have a chance to tell our side of the story?”
The police captain looked up.
“What is there to tell? The evidence is all here- you are
guilty. These esteemed men will decide your penalties.”
The trio resumed their discussions while the two
honeymooners stood nervously in their cuffs.
Finally agreement was reached and the police captain
looked up at them sternly.
“First the man. For resisting arrest 2 Years jail. For
assaulting the holy police 2 years jail and fifty lashes.
For permitting a woman in your charge to be indecently
exposed 1 year’s jail and one hundred lashes. For making and importing
pornography 5 years jail and 150 lashes. For illegal entry to this country 5
years jail with hard labour.
That is a total of 15 years jail and 300 lashes to be
administered in public in batches of fifty at one month intervals.
For the woman: For being indecently exposed in public 1 year’s
jail and 100 lashes. For illegally entering the country 5 years jail with hard labour.
For making an indecent object 5 years jail and 200 lashes. For insulting Islam
the penalty is death by beheading but the holy Mullah has mercifully commuted
this to ten years jail and 300 hundred lashes because you did not know our
customs. In all 21 years jail and 600 lashes to be administered in public in
batches of 25 at one month intervals.”
Both Ken and Jess went white at these harsh sentences.
They hardly had time to count the years in jail and the lashes they would
receive as their heads spun with the horror of their situation.
Finally Ken overcame his shock and began to stammer:
“B…but sirs! We were on our honeymoon. The connecting
aircraft was delayed for three days and we had nowhere to stay except in the
bare dusty transit room – the taxi driver told us he could take us to the hotel
to stay the night as long as we returned before 7 each morning.
How were we to know that the religious police would be
there waiting for us? When they began to hit my wife I did what any Western
husband would do and tried to protect her. It is our culture.
As for the camera these are our private honeymoon photos
taken in Greece and are not illegal in my country. They were not for other
people to view. We also did not consider that jeans and T shirt such as my wife
is wearing now is unacceptable in any part of the world. Had we known of your
strict dress customs we would have complied. As there was no intention of
breaking your laws or insulting your religion I beg you to consider clemency
for us and allow us to be deported.”
“I understand your situation but never the less the
sentences have been passed now and must be
carried out.” The policeman replied flatly.
Jess fell weeping on Ken’s chest at the horror of it all.
21 Years jail in this Arabian hell hole with 600 lashes
to endure over 5 years! The prospect was terrifying.
“Sirs is there anything to be done to ameliorate these
severe penalties? Please. Can we pay a fine instead?”
The police captain narrowed his eyes and spoke to the
Sheik and the Mullah for some time.
“These esteemed gentlemen have decided to show you mercy
and allow you to substitute fines for your servitude. They have decided on
500,000 British pounds each payable to the town and the mosque as reparations.”
“A million pounds? My God that is impossible – We can’t
pay that from here or even arrange it in the UK! Even if we sold everything we
owned and worked for the rest of our lives it would take years to repay it.”
Jess began crying solidly now all hope of a normal life
together destroyed in one rash moment of cultural carelessness.
“So you cannot pay the fines?”
“Absolutely not! Especially not that much. Is there a
chance to lower them to a level we can repay?” The Sheik narrowed his eyes and
spoke again quietly for a minute.
The Police captain looked up.
“Perhaps there is one other way. Our illustrious leader
Sheik Ramullah has responded to your plight and is prepared to cover your debts
if you will guarantee to repay him?
Of course, of course, when we get back to the UK we will
arrange repayment of the debts as soon as we can. Our families could try and
arrange the money…”Ken clutched at this ray of hope.
“Of course you will have to sign a guarantee of
indebtedness to him but I’m sure that can be arranged.” The police chief
“Yes, yes we can do that willingly.” They both looked up
They were taken back to their respective cells and
although still cuffed they kissed each other through the bars.
“A Million Pounds! Darling we can never make that. You’re
a struggling computer engineer and on my office salary it would take us fifty
years to repay it.” Jess lamented.
“I know darling but we have to get out of here first and
avoid being jailed or whipped and then we can appeal to the British Govt. to
help out diplomatically or go to the newspapers.”
A way out.
The police came back – only two this time and marched
them back to the room where a document lay on the table before them. It was
turned to them and although it was Arabic it was recognizable as some kind of
contract by the numbered lines of text and the amounts of money on it.
“The Sheik has drawn up this agreement to cover your
fines and has allowed you provision to repay the debt according to his
requirements. It is quite generous, however he has certain conditions which will
be revealed to you in due course some of which will enable him to rescind the
agreement and return you to prison to serve your original sentences if you fail
to abide by his conditions. Do you both agree?”
Ken nodded thinking only of getting away from here. The
police captain made a gesture and they each had one hand unlocked from their
cuffs. A pen was handed to Ken and he signed.
Then Jess signed where indicated. The Sheik read the
agreement then smiled. Without another word he rose and walked out of the room
followed by the Mullah. Two more police arrived carrying Ken and Jesse’s
backpacks which had been confiscated. They were cuffed with their hands in
“Why this?” Ken
queried. “I thought we were free.”
“No you have to go to the sheik’s palace where he will
explain the process of your agreement. It is a formality, so are these cuffs
for security, the Sheik has requested it.” The Policeman shrugged as if it was
no longer his concern.
They were conducted to the police van and locked in the
back with two police who leered at Jess for the whole bumpy dusty ride out into
the desert as they headed toward some distant ragged mountains. After about an
hour and half they arrived at a scrubby dirty town consisting of flat roofed
mud dwellings in several narrow streets around an oasis. They continued on
towards the mountains until they passed through heavy gates set in high stone
walls surrounding a lush green garden with fountains and plantations of palms
and fruit trees.
Finally after driving to another set of gates the van
stopped inside yet another high walled compound whose heavy electrically
controlled gates swung shut behind them. The van drew up to a low doorway and
they were pulled out by the policemen. Several black men in baggy Arabian
trousers and short bolero jackets came out and motioned to Ken and Jess to
follow them. Another brought their backpacks along behind.
One of the black men signed a police document and they
were conducted inside as the solid wooden door slammed shut. In the cooler semi
darkness it took their eyes a little while to adjust. They were led by the hand
cuffs along a passageway and into a pair of low roofed stone cells.
Here they were motioned to sit down. They were given
plastic bottles of water to drink but their chained hands were not released.
Ken lifted his hands up.
“Ah excuse me sir. Are these still required? I mean we
have agreed and we signed the document. We can’t really run away from in here
The younger of the three large blacks spoke in a kind of
high pitched voice:
“The master say you keep them on until he see you again.”
“This guy is really trying to let us know that we owe
him.” Mused Ken.
“Oh he very big boss around here. He say what happens to
everyone. Everybody do what he tells.”
The man went out and he heard Jess’s cell door slammed
and locked like his. He felt very uneasy at the way they were being treated,
still like prisoners and he feared for Jess among these cruel men. They had
only been married two weeks although they had lived together for more than
Jess was a bright, natural blonde who filled out a bikini
extremely well. Those damned beach photos, still they were their personal
property and not considered offensive in the west at all less even than what
the magazines would offer for public consumption. The Police had no right to
inspect their personal camera and deem it pornography.
Still here they were in North Africa after two weeks in
Greece. They had taken the opportunity to take a side trip to visit some
distant ruins far out in the North African desert and their plane had to
connect with another smaller aircraft to complete the journey. The travel agent
in Greece had approached them on the beach and offered them the trip free. He
had explained that the trip was a charter flight by a group of tourists but two
of them had dropped out through illness. He needed two people to make up the
number for the flight or he would not be paid his commission. When they had
boarded the flight the next day there had been no other travellers with them.
The pilot told them they would meet the main party at the transit stop.
Their connecting flight had not arrived and appalled at
the likelihood of spending their nights in the uncomfortable transit room at
the remote airport they had accepted an offer by a taxi driver to take them to
a hotel and return them before the airport staff arrived for work in the
The taxi had dropped them in the silent town and before
they had time to enter the shabby looking hotel four religious police emerged
from the shadows and had assailed Jess with whippy canes. Ken had tried to
protect her and actually floored two of the slightly built Arabs but the town
police arrived and it was all over.
Now here they sat handcuffed in dank cells owing an Arab
Sheik a Million pounds and not knowing how to pay him.
Ken heard Jess’s cell door unlocked and voices then he
too joined her in the corridor. The young black man was accompanied by three
others who now conducted them up several flights of stone steps to a more
luxuriously appointed part of the building. As they ascended several flights of
steps they passed through guarded doorways until they reached a wide hallway.
Here their shoes were removed easily by the black men.