Saudi Arabia: UPDATE: Amnesty International's alert for gang-rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes
19 November 2007
Further Information on UA 69/07 (MDE 23/013/2007, 16 March 2007) Fear of Flogging/ Prisoners of conscience/ Torture and other ill-treatment
*A 19-year-old woman (name not known)
*Seven men (names not known)
On 15 November, a court in eastern Saudi Arabia reviewed the sentences passed against a 19-year-old woman, known only as "The Girl from al-Qatif", and her male companion following the rejection of the verdict by the woman and her lawyer. The woman and her male companion had been convicted in 2006 of being alone in private with a member of the opposite sex who was not an immediate family member, under an offence known as Khilwa in Shariah law. Their original sentence of 90 lashes was increased to 200 lashes and a 6 month prison term.
The woman and her male companion were kidnapped at knifepoint by a gang of seven men shortly after they met in 2006. The male companion was attacked by the gang, but was then released. The woman however was raped by the gang, who were convicted of kidnapping and rape in November 2006.
Four members of the gang were at the time sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to five years. They were also sentenced to floggings of between 80 and 1000 lashes. Three other gang members reportedly handed themselves in before the conclusion of the trial. All seven recently also had their prison terms increased to between two and nine years.
The sentencing of the woman following her rape ordeal generated shock and anger among human rights activists as well as members of the public in Saudi Arabia. It also generated a rare debate in the country on the inconsistencies of the judicial system and its failure to reflect the gravity of the crimes committed against the woman. Amnesty International has previously highlighted such failures, including the interrogation and trial of women on sensitive and private matters by all-male panels of interrogators and judges. The organization believes that the criminalisation of ‘Khilwa’ is inconsistent with international human rights standards, in particular, an individual’s right to privacy and the case against them should therefore be declared null and void.
Flogging is mandatory in Saudi Arabia for a number of offences, including sexual offences, and can also be used at the discretion of judges as an alternative or addition to other punishments. Sentences can range from dozens to thousands of lashes, and are usually carried out in instalments, at intervals ranging from two weeks to one month.
In commenting on corporal punishments like flogging, the Special Rapporteur on Torture stated that "corporal punishment is inconsistent with the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The imposition of large numbers of lashes as in these cases is in particular violation of the prohibition of torture. The prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment is absolute under international law is considered customary international law. Saudi Arabia is a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and is therefore in violation of its treaty obligations when imposing such punishments, in addition to violating customary law.
Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Arabic or English or your own language:
-expressing grave concern that the woman known as "The Girl from al-Qatif" and her male companion are at risk of being flogged;
- calling on the authorities to halt the floggings immediately, as the use of corporal punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, in violation of Saudi Arabia's obligations as a state party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: ''No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment";
- calling on the authorities to declare the sentence of Khilwa against the woman and her companion null and void as it contravenes international human rights standards, in particular the right to privacy;
- expressing particular concern that the woman has been sentenced to flogging after having been gang raped, and that her physical and psychological suffering has been exacerbated by her trial and the sentence of 200 lashes;
- urging that she be afforded all necessary assistance, including appropriate medical attention;
- calling for the sentences of flogging against those convicted of the rape to be commuted to a humane punishment.
King Abdullah Bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 1 403 1185
Salutation: Your Majesty
His Royal Highness Prince Naif bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
P.O. Box 2933
Airport Road, Riyadh 11134
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 403 1185
Salutation: Your Royal Highness
His Royal Highness Prince Saud al-Faisal bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 403 0645
Salutation: Your Royal Highness
Mr Turki bin Khaled Al-Sudairy
Human Rights Commission
PO Box 58889, Riyadh 11515
King Fahad Road, Building No.373
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 4612061
and to diplomatic representatives of Saudi Arabia accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 31 December 2007.
Source: Amnesty International
"It is a tale that is more reminiscent of the cruel callous punishments meted out to women in medieval times. And yet sadly it is a case that is making headlines in the 21st century.
For those of you who are not aware of the story, an 18-year-old girl from Qatif went to meet a man she had had a prior relationship with to reclaim photos that he threatened to blackmail her with. While they were standing outside a shopping mall, they were abducted at knifepoint. She was gang raped 14 times by seven men. The man accompanying her was also raped. In an extraordinary ruling, she was sentenced by the courts to 90 lashes for having been with a man who was not her male relative. When she appealed this verdict, expecting leniency under the extenuating circumstances, the court increased her sentence to 200 lashes and six months imprisonment. This increased sentence was delivered under the spurious pretext that the judiciary would not be “aggravated and influenced” through the media. Her lawyer has been suspended from the case, has had his license confiscated and is now being threatened with disciplinary action.
I will never forget reading about this case when it was first documented several months ago. I blinked hard in disbelief at the ridiculous contents of the article and the trite absurdity of the allegations. It was enough to offend the sensibilities of any reasonable minded human being and yet, it seemed at the time, that those who are in charge of our judicial system were totally devoid of any sense of justice. It is this peculiar irony that has subsequently subverted and distorted the outcome of a trial that will no doubt characterize the level of injustice that we can expect to be afforded through the courts.
Here is a young woman who has had to suffer the unimaginable ordeal of being brutally raped by seven men 14 times but nonetheless decided to take the remarkably brave step and approach the authorities expecting at the very least a fair trial and perhaps, albeit unrealistically, a degree of compassion.
Indeed, as has been shown by the insanity of the proceedings she would have been well advised to privately deal with the physical and psychological scars that this heinous act had incurred. Instead of being applauded for breaking social taboos and enduring the consequences of revisiting the trauma that she must have acutely suffered in bringing her case forward, she now stands in the same dock as her rapists accused of being complicit in perpetrating the crime. According to the courts, she should not have been with a man who was not her male guardian in the first place. The judges looked into their crystal ball and saw that she had “the intention of doing something bad” and this therefore constituted a very good reason for her to be gang raped. Always the woman’s fault, but of course!
How does any of this make sense when practically all women in the Kingdom rely on the services of a man who is not their guardian? We live day and night in the closest of proximity with our drivers who by no means can be classified as eunuchs, having been deprived of the company of their wives for up to two years. And yet such a close relationship is deemed OK by the very same men in power who can punish a rape victim for being out in public with an equally “strange” man only because he doesn’t happen to be employed by her. Even though the judgment in this case is shocking, it is hardly surprising when you analyze the twisted reasoning it is based upon.
To add grotesque insult to injury, the lawyer defending the victim is now perceived as being public enemy No. 1 because he is producing tangible evidence supported by Islamic precedents and principles to show how ridiculous and contrary to the faith the ruling is. Rather than accept their failings, and redress the situation by backing down after the second hearing requesting a reduction in the girl’s sentence, the courts have amply demonstrated that the process of appeal is tantamount to begging for a tougher punishment. It also extends a warning to lawyers not to defend victims of such heinous crimes lest they lose their right to practice at all.
So what is the wider message being delivered to us citizens who may, God forbid, find ourselves at the mercy of the justice system here? Stay at home and keep our mouths shut. And to the outside world? I will leave this to your imagination. Suffice it to say that no amount of money spent on PR is going to be able to whitewash the irreparable damage caused by grave injustices such as this."
21 November 2007
Source: Arab News
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