Sunday, November 8, 2009

We Are Not Terrorists, We Are Photographers!

Last Saturday, the 7th of November, was one of my most dreaded days of my entire life, and one of the most humiliating, I might add. Me and my colleague were apprehended near my apartment by the local police here in Jeddah, just for taking a couple of pictures, including the picture you see below. If you look a little bit closer to the extreme right of the picture, you can even see the police car there. We were driving around the vicinity where I live, and taking photos on every potential subjects I see on the street to post in my photoblog, 'Camera Ni Cabrera'. I've been living in Saudi Arabia for almost 10 years now, so more or less, I know the do's and don'ts here, but sometimes things get a little bit out of hand,  especially with the police. Ridiculous!

Anyway, the police did not immediately arrest us, but unbeknownst to us they followed a few meters from where I took the photos and then tried to stop us when we were about to turn to a corner, I was asked to give them my Iqama, (an ID or small booklet given only to foreign workers to prove their legality), and my camera. While looking what was inside my camera, they were asking why I'm taking photos and what is it for, I told them that, it is a passion of mine to take photos of beautiful things, but it was to no avail, they don't speak nor understand English and my Arabic is so limited. My friend speaks fairly good Arabic, but even him could not get through them, they were just not listening to us. To make it short, they took everything, even our cellphones (so we can't call our boss to let them know about the predicament we're in), took the key of my car, handcuffed us together and throw us to the back of the police car. I was so scared almost to the point that I almost cried because of the fear that they might hurt us, deport us, or who knows what they are capable of doing, I know for a fact that Saudi Arabia in general don't actually have a good standing with the international communities when it comes to human rights issues.

When we arrived at the police station, they took off our handcuffs and put us inside the detention cell, where we saw some of the detainees who were already there, most of them were expatriates from south Asia. While inside, I felt a little uneasy and a little claustrophobic because of the size and the ventilation of the cell. After a few minutes, we were able to talk to one of the detainees there who happened to have a cellphone, so my friend asked him if he could kindly borrow the phone so that we could call someone from our office. After calling the office, the only thing for us to do was to wait for them to redeem us.

After 3 hours, we heard from the door saying "Filipini!" (the police was calling us), when we approached the door, the police outside gave us all our things except for the car key. That was the time I decided to take some pictures inside the cell.

After an hour and a half more, they let us out of the detention cell and gave me back my car key. And that was the time our HR told us that the police apprehended us because we were taking photos of the residential compound, (that was the wall where the bicycle is). Whatever the reason was, they shouldn't have confiscated our things and handcuffed us. It was so traumatic. We are not terrorists, we are photographers (kuno) .