SAUDI lawyer Abd al-Rahman al-Lahim had the temerity to draw the world’s attention to the fact that a court had sentenced a 19-year-old rape victim to 90 lashes.
The resultant publicity so enraged the Saudi judiciary it has INCREASED the sentence imposed on the young woman to 200 lashes, plus six months in jail.
And the court punished al-Lahem too – banning him from further defending the woman, confiscating his license and summoning him to a disciplinary hearing later this month.
The human rights activist – who won the 2008 Human Rights Defenders Award but was prevented by the authories to travel to London to receive it – turned to the international community for help in freeing his client who had originally been convicted of violating Saudi Arabia’s rigid Islamic sharia law on segregation of the sexes.
The justice ministry implied the victim’s sentence had been increased because the media had been alerted. A statement issued by the official Saudi Press Agency said:
For whoever has an objection on verdicts issued, the system allows to appeal without resorting to the media.
The rape took place in 2006. The victim said it occurred as she tried to retrieve her picture from a male high school student she used to know.
While in a car with the student, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area. She said she was raped there by seven men, three of whom also attacked her friend.
The case was referred back to the General Court by an appeals court last summer, after the woman’s lawyer contested the initial verdict, saying it was too lenient for the rapists and unjust for the victim.
In addition to more than doubling her sentence, the Saudi General Court also roughly doubled the prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping her.
The upholding of a decision to punish the victim triggered international outcry.
Canada said it would complain to Saudi authorities about the sentence, described as “barbaric”’ by Jose Verger, the Canadian minister responsible for the status of women.
The New York based Human Rights Watch said the 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.
While not directly criticising the Saudi Arabia’s judiciary, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said:
I think when you look at the crime and the fact that now the victim is punished, I think that causes a fair degree of surprise and astonishment. It is within the power of the Saudi government to take a look at the verdict and change it.
But the Saudi judiciary stood by its decision. It said in a statement:
The Ministry of Justice welcomes constructive criticism, away from emotions.
The statement also said that the “charges were proven” against the woman for having been in a car with a strange male, and repeated criticism of her lawyer for talking “defiantly” about the judicial system, saying “it has shown ignorance.”
Meanwhile, it is reported that another Islamic basket case of a country, Pakistan, has banned the country’s first gay website.
The queerpk.com site, set up to help members of Pakistan’s homosexual and transgender community socialise and share experiences, was shut down on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority said they had halted access to the site after complaints from Internet users. Said spokesman Kamran Ali:
We blocked the website under the law because its content was against Islam and norms of Pakistani society.
Hat tip: Trevor Blake (Pakistan report)