Even ossified social systems stir to life occasionally, evidently under the impact of globalization. As has happened in the case of the Saudi rape victim who has now received royal pardon.
She had been sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes by a Saudi court last month, arousing international outcry.
AdvertisementIn fact that was on an appeal against a previous sentencing of 90 lashes after being convicted of violating Saudi's rigid laws on segregation of the sexes.
The woman's punishment was increased because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media," it was stated. Only the initial sentences for the men convicted of the gang rape, ranging from 10 months to five years in prison were also nearly doubled.
Under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not permitted in public in the company of men other than their male relatives.
The attack took place in 2006, when she tried to retrieve her picture from a male high school student she used to know. The 18-year-old girl had got married by then and hence she did not want the picture to remain with her friend.
But while in the car with the student, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area. The victim claimed she was raped there by seven men, three of whom also attacked her friend.
"From the outset, my wife was dealt with as a guilty person who committed a crime," said her 24-year-old husband at the time of the second court ruling. "She was not given any chance to prove her innocence or describe how she was a victim of multiple brutal rapes.," the husband told CNN. Mercifully he remained supportive of his wife right through.
Calling his wife, "a quiet, simple person who does not bother anyone," he said she was ill and too fragile to speak about the case. As her guardian under Saudi law, he was standing up for her publicly.
"If this sentence is based on the law, then I would've welcomed it," the husband said. "But it is harsh, and the Saudi society I know and belong to is more sympathetic than that. I do not expect such harshness from Saudis, but rather compassion and support of the victim and her rights."
"Saudi society is very respectful to women in general," he maintained.
The attack, trial and sentencing had taken a heavy toll on his wife's already-poor health, he said.
"She suffers from anemia, a blood disorder and asthma, and will have surgery next month to remove her gallbladder," he said.
"Since the attack, she's been suffering from severe depression."
The events ended her pursuit of an education past high school, he said.
"Her situation keeps changing from bad to worse," he said. "You could say she's a crushed human being."
"The court proceedings were like a spectacle at times," he said. "The criminals were allowed in the same room as my wife. They were allowed to make all kinds of offensive gestures and give her dirty and threatening looks."
Of the three judges at the trial, one of them "was mean and from the beginning dealt with my wife as guilty person who had done something wrong," he said.
"Even when he pronounced the sentence, he said to her, 'You were involved in a suspicious relationship, and you deserve 200 lashes for that,' " he said.
The judge dismissed her lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, after the two clashed in court, he said.
"The judge took things personally and was reacting to our lawyer, who's a known human rights activist," the husband said. "The judge undermined the lawyer, decreased his role and then dismissed him from the case altogether. The judge simply couldn't work with our lawyer."
The husband said the judge was pursuing "a personal vendetta."
"We were shocked when the judgment changed and her sentence was doubled," the husband said. "We were looking for pardon; instead, she got double the whipping and more jail time."
All this had kicked up a furore worldwide. Still the justice ministry sought to brazen it out, dismissing all criticism as motivated and as "foreign interference." It insisted the ruling was legal and that the woman had confessed to having an affair with her fellow rape victim.
But apparently the Saudi authorities chose to give in to mounting pressure and hence the pardon now.
Justice Minister Abdullah al-Sheikh said the king had the right to issue pardons if it served the public interest.
The Saudi king frequently pardons criminals at the Eid al-Adha festival which takes place this week.
The BBC says the king's decision to pardon the woman victim is already arousing controversy with some contributors to conservative websites, who say he has breached the rules of religion in order to appease critics in the West.
The US had called the punishment "astonishing", although it refused to condemn the Saudi justice system.
Human rights groups had been calling on King Abdullah, who has a reputation as a pro-Western reformer, to change it.
Under law in Saudi Arabia, women are subject to numerous restrictions, including a strict dress code, a prohibition on driving and a requirement that they get a man's permission to travel or have surgery. Women are also not allowed to testify in court unless it is about a private matter that was not observed by a man, and they are not allowed to vote.
The Saudi government recently has taken steps to better the situation of women in the kingdom, including the establishment earlier this year of special courts to handle domestic abuse cases, adoption of a new labor law and the creation of a human rights commission.
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