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Must learnedly read, too; in part, of intellectual rigor
|Posted Tuesday, December 18, 2007|
|Saudi King Pardons Rape Victim Sentenced to Be Lashed, Saudi Paper Reports|
By KATHERINE ZOEPF
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia 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 paper, 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 an overhaul 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, the center of Saudi Arabias 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 when seven men attacked, raping them both. The woman and her former boyfriend, who was also pardoned, were originally sentenced to 90 lashes 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. For a woman to be meeting in private with a man who is not her husband or a relative is a crime in Saudi Arabia, where the legal code is based on a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law.
The womans lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, a well-known human rights activist, appealed, saying that 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 womans sentence and stripped Mr. Lahem of his license to practice, but it also increased the sentences of her attackers to prison terms of two to nine years.
Mr. Lahem could not be reached by phone late Monday, but the editor in chief of Al Watan, a Saudi daily that Mr. Lahem writes for, said it had 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.
Ive been hearing for two or three weeks now that the pardon would be issued, Mr. Khashoggi said in a telephone interview.
It has been expected that the girl would be pardoned in the end in similar cases, very public cases like this, it has been the same, he said. One of our writers was recently sentenced to a number of lashes and received a pardon from the king.
Mr. Khashoggi said the woman, who has married, was not jailed while she appealed. There have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her to remove the stain to the familys honor, and bloggers and international human rights activists have expressed concern for her safety.
The Saudi minister of social affairs, Abdul Mohsin al-Akkas, reached by telephone, said Saudi women who ran into trouble with the law frequently feared retribution from their relatives. Some women who serve prison time refuse to leave prison at the end of their sentences, he said. The Ministry of Social Affairs operates shelters for those women, and Mr. Akkas said the Qatif victim would be able to live in one.
If after the pardon she decides that she needs housing because of her circumstances, then we will offer that, he said.
Commenting on the pardon, the Saudi justice minister, Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Sheik, told Al Jazirah that the king fully supported the verdicts against the woman but had decided to pardon her because it was in the interests of the people. Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University who specializes in Saudi Arabia, said that was a kind of double message commonly employed by the Saudi government.
On one hand this tells people, We support our system and we will punish you if you violate it, he said. Yet hes also showing mercy. Throughout, hes making it clear that he is not disagreeing with the judges opinion on this sensitive issue of sexual chastity, but he believes that there is a higher interest to be served by the pardon, whether thats relationships between Shiites and Sunnis, or international opinion.
Conservative scholars and judges will still take this pardon as a slap in the face, Mr. Haykel continued. These decisions are always made like this, ad hoc, so that the core values and institutions of the Saudi state are not questioned or threatened.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, International, of Tuesday, December 18, 2007.
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