JEDDAH, 31 May 2004 — Rania Al-Baz’s husband has been sentenced to six months in jail and 300 lashes for beating his wife almost to death.
On April 4, Muhammad Bakar Yunus Al-Fallatta attacked the popular TV presenter, pinning her to the floor and repeatedly smashing her face into the marble tiles and the walls while choking her. He then dumped her unconscious at Bugshan Hospital.
She barely escaped with her life, suffering 13 facial fractures, and continues to undergo reconstructive surgery. Doctors say she has a 70 percent chance of complete recovery.
Al-Fallatta surrendered to the police on April 19 and originally faced an attempted murder charge, later reduced to severe battery.
Judge Ibrahim Al-Jarbou announced the verdict on Saturday in the presence of Al-Baz’s lawyer, Dr. Omar Al-Khouli, the prosecutor and the husband.
Al-Fallatta “seemed to accept the sentence,” Al-Khouli told Arab News. The six months include time served since his surrender, leaving four and a half months to complete.
The sentence is relatively lenient for such cases, according to Al-Khouli, but the judge took several mitigating factors into consideration. What they were Al-Khouli declined to say.
Rania Al-Baz said she did not wish to comment on the sentence, since she is anxiously waiting for the decision on her divorce and a decision on custody of her child.
Under Shariah, Al-Baz has a private as well as a public claim. The present sentence covers the public claim only. Al-Khouli expects a judgment in the private claim to come some time before Al-Fallatta is released from jail, though it will probably take another month.
If Al-Baz insists on compensation for her suffering, Al-Fallatta could either be ordered to pay damages or, in theory, be given a beating of equal severity to the one he inflicted on his wife. However, in practice the penalty is likely to be monetary, Al-Khouli said.
However, Al-Baz is more concerned about being granted a divorce and full custody of her two boys.
According to Shariah, in the event of a divorce, the mother gets custody of the children until the age of seven; after that, a boy is given the option of staying with his father or mother, with the other parent given visitation rights. Girls are given to the father.
Exceptions are made in unusual circumstances; however, in Saudi courts, judges usually rule in favor of the father, regardless of his character or ability to support the children.
Al-Baz said she stayed with her husband despite his history of violence because she was afraid she would be denied custody of her children. In cases of abuse and other situations in which the father is found unfit to have custody, the wife may get guardianship or permanent custody. Al-Khouli has indicated before that in a case abuse as extreme as Al-Baz’s, the judge could grant her permanent custody.
In the meantime, Al-Fallatta is making the case difficult by refusing to agree to a divorce, which leaves the judge with the option of revoking the marriage contract.