Updated November 19, 2007
JEDDAH, 18 November 2007 ? Upset with a sentence of 200 lashes and six months in prison, the 19-year-old Saudi gang-rape victim known as ?Qatif Girl? is appealing the verdict even as the judge in the case said her sentence could be increased as a result, the woman?s husband told Arab News yesterday.
The woman is charged with being in the company of an unrelated man shortly before she and her companion were brutally gang-raped by seven men, all of whom have been found guilty and sentenced to between two and nine years in prison with lashes for the crime.
In the absence of her lawyer, whose license to practice law was recently revoked by the Qatif General Court, the young woman agreed to fight the verdict.
?She was very determined and strong facing the harsh ruling. Even I was surprised,? said the victim?s husband, whose name is being withheld to protect the woman?s identity.
The husband said the judge warned that if the defendant lost her appeal her sentence could be increased.
The rape victim had already lost a second hearing (which was not considered an appeal) by the Higher Court of Justice, after her lawyer requested they review the ruling of the Qatif General Court, which had sentenced the woman to 90 lashes.
On Wednesday the Higher Court of Justice not only upheld the guilty verdict but also increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison. . .
I left a message of outrage with the Saudi Arabian consultate general’s office in Houston (their # is (713) 785-5577, you can also get a list of all of the Saudi Arabian consular offices in the US by clicking here) and would encourage you to do the same.
I think also might be worth contacting our political leaders to ask them why the US is continuing to be a close ally of one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies, particularly when this nation is committing such horrid human rights abuses. Saudi Arabia was and still is a far worse abuser of human rights than Iraq. I’m not saying we should invade Saudi Arabia, but I do think we should disengage our nation from that regime and quit providing military and financial support to it.
Lastly, if you’re a person of faith, please pray for this courageous young woman, her lawyer and her family. It would be so easy to give up and accept injustice but they are not giving up. In particular, I can’t help but admire Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem (the victim’s attorney) for his refusal to back down, even though he has lost his bar license for doing the right thing.
. . . Shying away from criticism of key ally, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the case and the punishment “surprising” and “astonishing.”
“While this is a judicial procedure — part of a judicial procedure — overseas in courts outside of our country, still while it is very difficult to offer any detailed comment about this situation, I think most people would be quite astonished by the situation, ” McCormack said.
“I can’t get involved in specific court cases in Saudi Arabia dealing with its own citizens. But most people here would be quite surprised to learn of the circumstances and then the punishment meted out,” he said.
Give me a break! Seriously, how can our government say it can’t give any “detailed comment” about the situation? WTF!?
Human Rights Watch called on King Abdullah to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer.
?A courageous young woman faces lashing and prison for speaking out about her efforts to find justice,? said Farida Deif, researcher in the women?s rights division of Human Rights Watch. ?This verdict not only sends victims of sexual violence the message that they should not press charges, but in effect offers protection and impunity to the perpetrators.?
The young woman, who is married, said she had met with a male acquaintance who had promised to give her back an old photograph of herself. After she met her acquaintance in his car in Qatif, a gang of seven men then attacked and raped both of them, multiple times. Despite the prosecution?s requests for the maximum penalty for the rapists, the Qatif court sentenced four of them to between one and five years in prison and between 80 and 1,000 lashes. They were convicted of kidnapping, apparently because prosecutors could not prove rape. The judges reportedly ignored evidence from a mobile phone video in which the attackers recorded the assault.
Moreover, the court in October 2006 also sentenced both the woman and man who had been raped to 90 lashes each for what it termed ?illegal mingling.? Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that the criminalization of any contact between unmarried individuals of the opposite sex in Saudi Arabia severely impedes the ability of rape victims to seek justice. A court may view a woman?s charge of rape as an admission of extramarital sexual relations (or ?illegal mingling?) unless she can prove, by strict evidentiary standards, that this contact was legal and the intercourse was nonconsensual.
In an interview in December, the rape victim described to Human Rights Watch her treatment in court:
?At the first session, [the judges] said to me, ?what kind of relationship did you have with this individual? Why did you leave the house? Do you know these men?? They asked me to describe the situation. They used to yell at me. They were insulting. The judge refused to allow my husband in the room with me. One judge told me I was a liar because I didn?t remember the dates well. They kept saying, ?Why did you leave the house? Why didn?t you tell your husband [where you were going]???
?Victims of sexual violence in Saudi Arabia face enormous obstacles in the criminal justice system,? said Deif. ?Their interrogations and court hearings are more likely to compound the trauma of the original assault than provide justice.?