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Words fail me. We are all too often reminded that our justice system has serious flaws (Barry George and Stefan Kiszko spring immediately to mind) but we would never see a sentence like this in the UK. A judge in Saudi Arabia has ordered a victim of gang rape to receive 200 lashes for being alone with a man who was not a relative after she appealed against the lenient sentences given to the men who attacked her. He also jailed her for six months.
The 21-year-old woman, who was 19 at the time of the attack and is known by the Saudi media as "the girl from Qatif", was raped 14 times by a gang of seven. Although her attackers were found guilty and sentenced to between 10 months and five years last year, she was simultaneously sentenced to 90 lashes as punishment for riding in a car with a man who was not a relative. By appealing against this decision, the judge ruled on Wednesday, she was attempting to "aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media".
At the appeal, the rapists' sentences were increased to between two and nine years. "Some Saudis agree with her being lashed for being with a male that wasn't a relative," said Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, international news editor at Jeddah-based Arab News, "but most feel that doubling her punishment on appeal was unfair. Among many level-headed Saudis, the consensus is: 'Come on, she's been raped multiple times. Hasn't she suffered enough?'"
Amnesty International condemned the sentence. "Human rights activists and lawyers worldwide have expressed shock and sympathy," said Lamri Chirouf, a researcher for Amnesty who specialises in the region. "There is still opportunity to appeal, and so we are mounting a campaign that we will address to the king. [The Saudi courts] have got the priorities completely wrong. They have to protect the victims, not punish them."
The victim's lawyer, a prominent human rights defender, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, was suspended from the case as a result of the appeal and his licence, granted to Saudi lawyers by the ministry of justice, has been revoked. "I explained to them that it was my job to do everything legal in order to serve my client. But they did not listen," he told Arab News. Lahem is known in Saudi Arabia for his work defending women's rights. He has taken on some of the country's most controversial and sensitive cases, often making the headlines.
Last year he defended a woman whose brothers forced her to divorce her husband after they accused him of lying about his tribal affiliation. This month he was due to represent a 50-year-old woman and her daughter who claim two undercover officials commandeered their car and drove them recklessly through Riyadh after accusing them of not conforming to customs of decency.
Lahem told Reuters: "The court blamed the girl for being alone with unrelated men, but it should have taken the humane view that it cannot be considered her fault." Lahem's critics have called him an infidel and "lawyer of homosexuals". In the past he has been jailed and banned from travelling abroad. He will appear before a disciplinary committee at the ministry of justice on December 5, charged with criticising the judiciary and conducting activist campaigns in the media.
Words fail me. I remember in the 80s being outraged a judge who accused a rape victim of contributory negligence for wearing a mini skirt (I do hope that God is a woman and is giving him a suitable punishment for such a statement). The sentence handed down to this Saudi woman is an affront to humanity. It is further proof that it is a nation run by misogynistic scum. Sadly there is no chance of regime change in that pariah state (or at least it should be) not when Gordon Brown sucks up to the king and talks about “shared values”. A boot in the King’s testicles would have been a more appropriate gesture