Thursday, November 15, 2007

Saudi punishes gang rape victim with 200 lashes

The 19-year-old woman was initially ordered to undergo 90 lashes for "being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape," the Arab News reported.

But in a new verdict issued after Saudi Arabia's Higher Judicial Council ordered a retrial, the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif more than doubled the number of lashes to 200.

A court in the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia is punishing a female victim of gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in jail, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

A court source told the English-language Arab News that the judges had decided to punish the woman further for "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media."

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict Islamic doctrine known as Wahhabism and forbids unrelated men and women from associating with each other, bans women from driving and forces them to cover head-to-toe in public.

The woman's lawyer Abdul Rahman al-Lahem appealed, arguing that the punishments were too lenient in a country where the offence can carry the death penalty.

In the new verdict issued on Wednesday, the Al-Qatif court also toughened the sentences against the six men to between two and nine years in prison.

The case has angered members of Saudi Arabia's Shiite community. The convicted men are Sunni Muslims, the dominant community in the oil-rich Gulf state.

Lahem, also a human rights activist, told AFP on Wednesday that the court had banned him from handling the rape case and withdrew his licence to practise law because he challenged the verdict.

He said he has also been summoned by the ministry of justice to appear before a disciplinary committee in December.

Lahem said the move might be due to his criticism of some judicial institutions, and "contradicts King Abdullah's quest to introduce reform, especially in the justice system."

King Abdullah last month approved a new body of laws regulating the judicial system in Saudi Arabia, which rules on the basis of sharia, or Islamic law.

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