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Saudi king pardons teenage rape victim

RIYADH (AFP) — King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pardoned a teenage girl sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes after being gang raped in a decision swiftly welcomed by Washington on Monday.

Justice Minister Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Ibrahim al-Sheikh hailed the king’s “laudable instructions to grant the pardon”, in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The sentence against the 19-year-old girl had drawn criticism of the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom from key ally President George W. Bush.

The girl, who was 18 at the time she was raped, was attacked at knifepoint by seven men after she was found in a car with a male companion who was not a relative, in breach of strict Saudi law.

The king also pardoned the male companion, the justice minister announced.

The victim’s identity has not been revealed but she has become known as “Qatif girl,” after the Shiite-populated area of Al-Qatif in the Eastern Province from which she comes.

In October 2006, a judge sentenced her to 90 lashes for being with the man — a taboo in the conservative Muslim kingdom which imposes segregation of the sexes.

She appealed against the sentence but despite her ordeal the court ruled that her punishment should be increased to 200 lashes and a six-month jail term.

The judges decided to punish the girl further for “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media,” a court source told the English-language daily Arab News.

The rapists were initially sentenced to one to five years in jail, but those terms were also toughened in November to between two and nine years.

A rape conviction carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but the court did not impose it due to the “lack of witnesses” and the “absence of confessions,” the justice ministry said last month.

The girl’s husband praised the king for granting the pardon.

“This fatherly care and noble gesture will help (in) lifting the emotional and psychological stress and suffering that our family has been enduring,” the husband was quoted as saying on CNN television’s website.

“This is not something new because we know that the king was always generous in dealing with his people and the entire world,” the husband said. “This week, we have two holidays to celebrate; the Eid and this great news of the pardon.”

King Abdullah’s pardon came on the day that Muslims began the annual hajj pilgrimage as two million faithful set off from Mecca to the valley of Mina in Saudi Arabia.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino welcomed the pardon.

“This is a decision that King Abdullah needed to make on behalf of Saudi Arabia, and we think it was the right one,” she said.

Bush expressed disappointment earlier this month at Saudi Arabia’s lack of support for the rape victim, saying he would have been angry if his own daughter had endured such treatment.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Washington hoped that the king’s decision would discourage the Saudi courts from issuing such judgements again in the future.

“We’re very pleased by the decision that was taken by the king, and we certainly hope it will send a signal to the Saudi judiciary,” he said.

“I think that we would like to not see a repeat of cases like this. If the king’s decision has an impact of that kind on the thinking of those in the Saudi judicial system, I think that would be a good thing.”

Casey said he was not aware of any specific US contacts with King Abdullah on the move, but added Washington had “made quite clear what our views were on this subject” through its embassy in Saudi Arabia and in its public statements.

Women in oil-rich Saudi Arabia live under restrictions imposed by a rigid interpretation of Islam and stringent tradition.

They must be covered from head to toe in public and are not permitted to drive. Furthermore, they need a “mahram” or a guardian — a husband or close male relative if they are widowed or single — in order to apply for and obtain a passport.

Political constraints also mean that Saudi women are totally absent from the Shura (consultative) Council, whose members are appointed by the king, and were barred from landmark municipal elections in 2005.

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December 18, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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