Saudi PR on Lashes for Rape Victim

Extra whipping for woman who appealed sentence recommended by Supreme Judiciary Council

Hold your nose: the Saudi Justice Ministry has released two statements (available here and here) explaining why it is right and proper for a 19-year-old woman to receive 200 lashes (I blogged the case here):

…we regret what some media have circulated on the role of the woman in the case, and the dissemination of false information and misplaced defense. Such wrong activity has led to doubting the course of the case although most the information are false and in general inaccurate because these information are taken from persons who have nothing to do with jurisprudence and have no knowledge of the details of the case. That is why the Ministry of Justice has felt compelled, in view of what has been published, to clarify in details the role of the woman and that of her companion.

The statement claims that the woman, known to the media as “AG” or “Qatif Girl”, was with her lover in a car when both were “assaulted” (i.e. both were raped) by seven other men, and that “the woman and the young man who was with her concealed all what happened” for several months. Given how things have turned out, that last detail is hardly surprising; indeed, the couple’s assailants were probably counting on it. Although nothing can justify the court’s action, this version of events, it should be noted, is rather different from that of the woman’s own account of why she was with the “young man”.

There is also an explanation as to why the woman’s lawyer has been suspended:

…The Ministry of Justice welcomes meaningful criticism which serves public interest, away from emotions… As for the lawyer Abdulrahman Allahem, the judges of the Court have filed that he has insulted the Supreme Judiciary Council, opposed regulations and instructions and showed ignorance of them. Also, he refused at the session held on 7 / 9 / 1428 H. to sign the minutes of the session.

The statements also suggest that we should be impressed by Saudi mercifulness:

…After deliberations and hearings of all parties and verification of evidence filed by the prosecutor, it was not proved to the court that it should impose death penalty against the defendants; this is in compliance with the saying of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) / thou bar capital penalty by suspicions / as no capital penalty ordered by God is carried out unless there is a clear-cut evidence, that is the testimony of two upright adults on the occurrence of the crime, or the culprit’s unwavering plea of guilt until the execution of the sentence.

There is some surprise over the fact that the woman dared to speak out after her original sentence was passed:

…After reading out the [original] ruling before the Prosecutor General, and the defendants, including the woman and her companion, all of them contently accepted it, giving the verdict the characteristic of final judgment.

Further, we are warned that:

…The system has guaranteed the right to object for whoever has an objection and requests an appeal without resorting to provocation through media which may not be fair or grant a justice; rather media may have adverse effects on the other parties involved in the case.

The woman’s original sentence of 90 lashes was increased to 200 when she appealed; according to a report in the Arab News, this was because the judges were annoyed with the negative publicity caused by the original judgement – they accused her of “attempt[ing] to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media”. The ministry, however, claims that the judges were following the recommendations of the highest legal authority:

The Supreme Judiciary Council in its Permanent Body issued ruling No. 979 / 4 dated 16 / 6 / 1428 H. including a note of dissatisfaction on the ruling, and returned the case to their eminence the judges who first ruled the case, recommending them to increase the chastisement whipping of the defendants each according to his guilt, including the woman and her companion.

The Chief Justice of the Council is Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan; in 2004 he was famously taped encouraging Saudis to fight in Iraq. The Minister of Justice, meanwhile, is Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim Al Al-Sheikh.

A couple of days ago, Prince Saud, the foreign minister, said the sentence is under review, although he also complained that

“What is aggravating in this matter is that individual acts like these are used to attack the Saudi people and its government.”

According to this BBC report, the Supreme Judiciary Council is about to be replaced by a new supreme court and appeals court as part of a modernisation process. Qatif Girl’s lawyer is also hopeful of change; in his view,

“That verdict signals the death throes of the judiciary’s old guard. They can see the end is near,” he said. “As black as it looked for me . . . I saw that the overkill in that verdict was a sign of desperation.”

Name variations: Shaykh Saalih al-Lehaydaan; Abdulrahman Al-Lahem; Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem

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