The Saudi justice system is based on the Islamic religious legal code known as Sharia, but if a case that burst onto the international scene this week is any example, the word “justice” is a misnomer.
In 2007, A Saudi court sentenced a gang-rape victim to a 90-lash whipping for violating the ban on women having contact with men who are not their relatives.
When the woman’s defense lawyer protested the sentence, calling for some compassion for this teenager who was sexually assaulted by seven men, the Saudi General Court increased her punishment to 200 lashes and a six-month jail term.
The incident happened in 2006 in the Eastern Province city of Qatif. The “Qatif Girl," as she has become known in Saudi Arabia — her identity has not been made public — was then 19 years old. She got into a car with a teenage boy she knew in high school, intending to retreive a picture of herself from him.
She was soon to marry someone else, and she couldn’t have this former high school flame carrying her picture around.
That was her offense. What happened next was irrelevant to the court, at least as far as the Qatif’s girl’s punishment was concerned. Seven men kidnapped the pair, assaulting and raping both the woman and her male acquaintance.
The male rape victim was also sentenced to 90 lashes. The rapists received varying sentences, the harshest being five years in prison and 1,000 lashes.
Whipping is a common sentence in Saudi Arabia for crimes ranging from consuming alcohol to homosexuality.
The court cited the fact that the woman’s lawyer went to the media as a reason that her sentence was increased. But there may be other factors. Her attorney, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, is a human rights activist who has defended critics of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family.
Also, the “Qatif Girl” belongs to the Shiite Muslim minority in a country dominated by Sunni Muslims.
Even the original sentence of 90 lashes was considered excessive within Saudi Arabia. The 200-lash sentence has set off international protests.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, this sentence “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.”
Sources: New York Times, Daily Bhaskar, Associated Press