Saudi rape victim pardoned by King Abdullah, paper reports - Print Version - International Herald Tribune
By Katherine Zoepf
Monday, December 17, 2007
RIYADH: King Abdullah has pardoned a woman who was sentenced to 200 lashes after pressing charges against seven men who raped her, a Saudi newspaper reported Monday.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Ministry of Justice or the Ministry of Information, but the newspaper, Al Jazirah, is close to the religious establishment that controls the Justice Ministry, Reuters reported.
The case has provoked a rare and angry public debate in Saudi Arabia, leading to renewed calls for reform of the Saudi judicial system.
The rape took place a year and a half ago in Qatif, a small Shiite town in the Eastern Province, center of the Saudi Arabia's oil industry. The woman, who has been publicly identified only as the "Qatif girl," said she met a former boyfriend to retrieve a photograph of herself. They were sitting in a car together when seven men attacked, raping them both.
The woman and the former boyfriend were originally sentenced to 90 lashes each for being together in private, while the attackers received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison, and 80 to 1,000 lashes each. For a woman to be in seclusion with a man who is not her husband or a relative is a crime in Saudi Arabia, whose legal code is based on a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law.
Her lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, a well-known human rights activist, appealed, saying the attackers' sentences were too lenient and that of the victim was too harsh. The appeal brought down the wrath of the court. In November, it doubled the woman's sentence and stripped Lahem of his license to practice, but also increased the sentences of her attackers to prison terms of two to nine years.
Lahem could not be reached by phone late Monday, but the editor in chief of Al Watan, a leading Saudi daily that Lahem writes for, said that it has been known in Riyadh political circles since early this month that the woman would be pardoned. The editor, Jamal Khashoggi, said he believed that the timing of the pardon, on the eve of the Id al-Adha holiday, was coincidental.