Saudi Rape Victim Sentence To Be Reviewed

Unidentified Saudi women walk along a suburban street in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in this Nov. 15, 2006 file photo. The kingdom's judicial system, particularly the wide discretion judges have in sentencing criminals, has come under scrutiny following the gang rape of a 19-year-old woman and her male friend.
A Saudi court will review the case of a young gang rape victim sentenced to jail and flogging after she was convicted of violating the country's strict sex segregation laws, the foreign minister was quoted as saying Tuesday.

The remarks by Prince Saud al-Faisal, made in the United States and carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, were the latest in response to a salvo of international condemnation of Saudi judicial authorities' handling of the case.

It was also a sharp turn from a Saturday statement in which the Saudi justice ministry condemned the girl -- raped by seven men and then sentenced to six months prison and 200 lashes -- as a married woman who had allegedly confessed to cheating on her husband.

In the statement, the ministry said the flogging sentence against the rape victim would be carried out and condemned foreign interference. The statement likely sought to ease international outrage over the case by discrediting the woman.

On Tuesday, SPA quoted al-Faisal, who spoke from Annapolis, Maryland, where he is attending the U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference, as saying that "the Saudi judiciary will review the case" of the Shiite girl from the city of Qatif.

But al-Faisal was also on the defensive and claimed the case was being used against Saudi authorities.

"What is outraging about this case is that it is being used against the Saudi government and people," he said without elaborating.

Known only as the "Girl from Qatif," the 19-year-old rape victim said she was a newlywed who was meeting a high school friend in his car to retrieve a picture of herself from him when the attack occurred in the eastern city of Qatif in 2006.

While in a car with him, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area where others waited, and then she and her companion were both raped.

The ministry's account Saturday alleged that the woman and her lover met in his car for a tryst "in a dark place where they stayed for a while."

The girl was initially sentenced to prison and 90 lashes for being alone with a man not related to her. An appeal court then doubled the lashes to 200.

The increase in sentence received heavy coverage in the international media and prompted expressions of astonishment from the U.S. government. Canada called it "barbaric."

The State Department expressed astonishment about the sentence of the Saudi court against the rape victim.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives. Also, women in Saudi Arabia are often sentenced to flogging and even death for adultery and other crimes.

The seven men convicted of gang raping the woman were given prison sentences of two to nine years. The initial sentences for the men ranged from 10 months to five years in prison.

The case has sparked rare domestic debate about Saudi's legal system, which gives judges wide discretion in sentencing criminals, rules of evidence are shaky and sometimes no lawyers are present.

Justice in Saudi Arabia is administered by a system of religious courts and judges appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council. Those courts and judges have complete discretion to set sentences, except in cases where Sharia outlines a punishment, such as capital crimes.

That means that no two judges would likely hand down the same verdict for similar crimes. A rapist, for instance, could receive anywhere from a light or no sentence to death, depending on the judge's discretion.