JEDDAH, 21 November 2007 — The Ministry of Justice made its first public statement regarding the second verdict in the so-called “Qatif Girl” rape trial, justifying the decision to punish the victims with lashes and jail time on the basis of “some proved charges.”
The statement, which was released through the official Saudi Press Agency, said the ministry “welcomes objective criticism that benefits the general good, away from emotional responses.”
Last week “Qatif Girl”, whose name has not been released to protect her identity, and a male companion saw their sentences increased from 90 lashes to 200 lashes and six months in jail on orders by the Higher Court of Justice.
The two were found guilty of being in a state of khalwa, when an unrelated man and woman are found together, prior to their abduction and rape. The sentences of the seven men found guilty of abducting and repeatedly raping the young woman and her male companion were also increased to between two and nine years each.
The decision to increase the punishments came after the woman’s lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, requested that the courts review the sentences issued to the rapists.
Al-Lahem argued that the men should be put to death on the basis of “hiraba” in Shariah law, which refers to the need for capital punishment for certain violent crimes that spread social “corruption and decomposition”.
The lawyer further argued that the courts should reconsider the original sentences of the men and issue a verdict known as “hadd” — a clear verdict of death based on the laws in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
The judges disagreed, and chose to issue their verdicts based on “ta’azir,” a judicial interpretation of Shariah law.
The ministry said in its statement yesterday that the court didn’t have sufficient evidence to pursue a “hiraba” verdict. The ministry argued that the death penalty verdict (“hiraba”) could not be issued without “two witnesses or a confession from the accusers that is not retracted.” (The men had initially confessed to the crime, but later retracted their confessions.)
The ministry also said yesterday in its statement that anyone has a right to appeal verdicts, but also warned of “stirring up agitation through the media that may not be objective and cannot grant anyone any right as much as it can negatively affect the other parties involved in the case.”
The ministry statement used the term “the woman and her male friend” and “the woman and her companion” without referring to either of them as rape victims.
The Qatif General Court also revoked Al-Lahem’s license to practice law for “disobeyingrules and regulations” at a hearing during Ramadan, according to yesterday’s statement from the ministry.
The statement didn’t elaborate on the nature of the violations the lawyer allegedly committed in the courtroom.
Al-Lahem told Arab News on Sunday that the incident was sparked when he objected to the presence of the rapists in the courtroom, saying that under Saudi law she did not need to be present and in the same room with her attackers.
Yesterday’s ministry statement concluded by saying the Qatif Court judges “asked that the lawyer’s violations be looked at by the disciplinary committee according to the system.”