JEDDAH, 18 December 2007 — The pardon by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah of the 20-year-old rape victim known as “Qatif Girl” yesterday was well received by her husband who wanted to say nothing on the case except to thank the king. Meanwhile, human rights activists also welcomed the news but are calling for specific measures to avert sentencing rape victims in the first place.
“On behalf of my wife and myself we would like to sincerely thank King Abdullah, the king of humanity, for his fatherly gesture,” said the husband whose name has not been published in the media. “That is not strange from King Abdullah who is known for his generosity to his citizens and the Islamic world.”
The husband said he received the good news yesterday morning through a phone call from one of his friends who spotted the news in the early morning. He said that his wife, whose name is also being withheld from publication because of the nature of the crime, is totally relieved now even though she is physically ill and scheduled to have surgery next week.
Human rights activist Fawziya Al-Oyoni, who is based in the Eastern Province, said that the king’s pardon brings some relief to women, but it doesn’t clear the rape victim from being blamed.
“The case should have been looked at again in another court that clears the girl of all charges,” said Oyoni. “A pardon means that she did something wrong and was kindly pardoned later.”
Yesterday, Justice Minister Abdullah Al-Asheikh defended the Higher Court’s decision to increase the punishment of the rape victim to 200 lashes and prison time after her lawyer disputed the Qatif General Court’s original sentence of 90 lashes.
King Abdullah used his authority, said Al-Asheikh, “to diminish people’s suffering when he is sure that such verdicts might leave psychological effects on those who received Shariah sentences, although he is convinced and trusts that the verdicts are just and fair.”
An informed source told Arab News that the Qatif Girl’s 36-year-old lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, would have his law license returned to him after the Eid Al-Adha holidays. Al-Lahem had his license revoked by the Qatif General Court after being accused of taking the case to the media to “confuse the judicial establishment’s image and thus harming the country.”
Riyadh-based lawyer Omar Al-Saab said that although people may consider the pardon a minor victory, it establishes a precedent that tells the courts they are under increased scrutiny. “This is a historic day,” said Saab. “The king’s pardon will send a strong message to judges that they are under surveillance. People are now aware of their rights, they know they have the right to appeal and pursue their rights. Judges will now put in mind that they might face another ‘Al-Lahem’ type of lawyer who will challenge them and not take ‘no’ for answer.”
Al-Lahem declined to comment on the case yesterday.
Human rights activist Oyoni said she is calling for clear legislation that differentiates between rape and adultery. While the royal pardon is good news for the girl from Qatif, Oyoni said it was not a practical solution. “There are many other similar cases that have not received such international exposure,” she said. “Not every case will receive the media attention and not every women will get a royal pardon afterward.”
Oyoni called for strict punishments for rapists. Under the Shariah, rape is a capital crime. In the case of the Qatif Girl, the seven men found guilty of gang rape were sentenced to between two and nine years in prison. Oyoni said strict sentences would send a message to women to come forward and report these crimes to authorities.
Najib Al-Khunaizi, a Saudi activist and columnist from the Eastern Province, said that the royal pardon had come as a relief to the girl, her husband and her family, but that he hoped this case would lead to concrete reform. “It is very crucial now more than ever to form a legal corpus that prevents differences and contradictions among similar cases that receive different verdicts from one judge to the other,” he said.
He said that Justice Minister Asheikh’s comment that called the verdict “just” could create misunderstanding from the international community’s point of view.
“(The minister) should have said that they would review the case against both the girl and her assaulters,” said Khunaizi. “Until now they have not said what would happen to the rapists who are the core of the problem.”
The case stems from an incident in 2006 when seven men abducted and gang-raped the Qatif Girl, who was 19 at the time. Three judges from the Qatif General Court sentenced the rape victim to 90 lashes for being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape, committing “isolation” (khulwa). It is illegal in Saudi Arabia for women to mingle with unrelated men in the absence of their legal male guardian.
According to both her husband and her lawyer, the rape victim had met the male friend to receive a photo of her that he had from a relationship they had had when she was 16. She wanted the picture returned because she was about to be married. She contends that the man had threatened to distribute the pictures and shame her.