Saudi Arabia: Gang rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail

The Guardian
Saudi woman punished for being alone with a man; Lawyer specialising in women's rights suspended
A judge in Saudi Arabia has ordered a victim of gang rape to receive 200 lashes - more than double her original sentence for being alone with a man who was not a relative - after she appealed against the lenient sentences given to the men who attacked her. He also jailed her for six months.
The 21-year-old woman, who was 19 at the time of the attack and is known by the Saudi media as "the girl from Qatif", was raped 14 times by a gang of seven. Although her attackers were found guilty and sentenced to between 10 months and five years last year, she was simultaneously sentenced to 90 lashes as punishment for riding in a car with a man who was not a relative.

By appealing against this decision, the judge ruled on Wednesday, she was attempting to "aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media".

At the appeal, the rapists' sentences were increased to between two and nine years.

"Some Saudis agree with her being lashed for being with a male that wasn't a relative," said Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, international news editor at Jeddah-based Arab News, "but most feel that doubling her punishment on appeal was unfair. Among many level-headed Saudis, the consensus is: 'Come on, she's been raped multiple times. Hasn't she suffered enough?'"

Amnesty International condemned the sentence. "Human rights activists and lawyers worldwide have expressed shock and sympathy," said Lamri Chirouf, a researcher for Amnesty who specialises in the region. "There is still opportunity to appeal, and so we are mounting a campaign that we will address to the king. [The Saudi courts] have got the priorities completely wrong. They have to protect the victims, not punish them."

The victim's lawyer, a prominent human rights defender, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, was suspended from the case as a result of the appeal and his licence, granted to Saudi lawyers by the ministry of justice, has been revoked.

"I explained to them that it was my job to do everything legal in order to serve my client. But they did not listen," he told Arab News.

Lahem is known in Saudi Arabia for his work defending women's rights. He has taken on some of the country's most controversial and sensitive cases, often making the headlines.

Last year he defended a woman whose brothers forced her to divorce her husband after they accused him of lying about his tribal affiliation. This month he was due to represent a 50-year-old woman and her daughter who claim two undercover officials commandeered their car and drove them recklessly through Riyadh after accusing them of not conforming to customs of decency.

Lahem told Reuters: "The court blamed the girl for being alone with unrelated men, but it should have taken the humane view that it cannot be considered her fault."

Lahem's critics have called him an infidel and "lawyer of homosexuals". In the past he has been jailed and banned from travelling abroad. He will appear before a disciplinary committee at the ministry of justice on December 5, charged with criticising the judiciary and conducting activist campaigns in the media.

By: Vicky Baker

17 November 2007