Saudi Arabia Defends
Rape Victim's Sentencing


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20 November 2007

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is defending a controversial court decision to sentence a victim of gang rape to 200 lashes and six months in prison.

The Kingdom's official news agency, the Saudi Press Agency on Tuesday published a Justice Ministry statement reiterating that charges against the woman were proven and criticizing media coverage of the case.

The U.S. State Department says it is astonished by the court's decision. But, facing questions from reporters Tuesday in Washington, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack stopped short of condemning the punishment, or calling on Saudi officials to drop the sentence.

McCormack said he is not aware of any direct contact between Washington and Riyadh on this issue.

The 19-year-old female rape victim was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being out with an unrelated male the night of the attack.

The justice ministry says the woman "contentedly accepted" the verdict against her.

Then, last week, a Saudi Appeals Court, in the eastern province of Qatif issued a new verdict, doubling the number of lashes and sentencing the victim to jail time, reportedly for "attempting to influence the judiciary" through the media.

A lawyer representing the victim says a judicial committee suspended him from the case and revoked his license to practice law because he challenged the initial verdict. The Justice Ministry statement on Tuesday said he was punished for violating legal ethics.

Seven men raped the victim. Her attackers have been given sentences ranging from two to nine years in prison.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.