Friday, December 14, 2007

Saudi women activists furious at gang-rape ruling

- Friday, November 23, 2007

DUBAI (AFP) - - A recent Saudi court ruling sentencing a woman to six months in jail and 200 lashes despite being gang-raped highlights the injustice faced by women in the ultra-conservative kingdom, women rights activists said.

"Sure, there is injustice against women in courts. It is a bitter situation that Saudi women have to endure," Saudi activist Wajiha al-Hweider said on Thursday, after the court ruling received widespread publicity.

"The kingdom is in an embarrassing position. King (Abdullah) should step in and stop this farce," Hweider told AFP, adding that the judicial system, which is based on Islamic law, should be reformed.

Despite being raped by seven men who kidnapped her with a male companion at knife-point, the 19-year-old woman was sentenced in November 2006 to 90 lashes.

The judge sentenced her for being in a car with a man who was not her relative, a taboo in the ultra-conservative desert kingdom.

But her story hit international headlines last week when her sentence was increased to six months in jail and 200 lashes after she spoke to the media.

Except for immediate family members, men and women cannot mix in Saudi Arabia, which applies a rigorous doctrine of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. Women must also cover themselves from head to toe in public and are banned from driving or travelling without permission from their male guardian.

The men were initially sentenced to one to five years in jail, but those terms were also increased last week to between two and nine years.

Their sentences fell short of the death penalty -- which could be imposed in a rape conviction -- due to the "lack of witnesses" and the "absence of confessions," the justice ministry said on Tuesday.

"The judge does not have a written law. It is a matter of luck. You are lucky if the judge is a moderate and fears God," said Hweider, an outspoken US-educated activist who leads a group of women demanding the right to drive.

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