Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Saudi Lawyer Reports Harassment After Defending Rape Victim

AFP reports:

A Saudi lawyer and human rights activist said on Wednesday that a court in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom withdrew his licence after he objected to a ruling which penalised a female rape victim.

Abdurrahman al-Lahem told AFP that the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif banned him from handling the rape case and confiscated his lawyer's licence because he challenged the verdict.

"The ministry of justice also summoned me to appear before a disciplinary committee" during the first week of December, Lahem said.

Last year, the court in Al-Qatif sentenced six Saudi men accused of raping the woman to between one and five years in jail while sentencing the woman to 90 lashes, Lahem said.

He said he appealed the ruling at the Higher Judicial Council, which ordered a retrial.

In a new ruling on Wednesday, the court toughened the sentences against the six men to between two and nine years in prison. But it also sentenced the woman to six months in jail and 200 lashes.

Lahem and other activists saw the sentences handed to the accused, who were armed when they assaulted the woman, as too lenient in a country where rape can carry the death penalty.

The case has angered members of Saudi Arabia's minority Shiite community, to which the woman belongs. The accused are Sunnis, the dominant community in the Gulf country which applies a rigorous Islamic doctrine known as Wahhabism.

Lahem said there was no apparent reason for the justice ministry's decision to refer him to a disciplinary committee.

He said the move might be due to his criticism of some judicial institutions, and "contradicts King Abdullah's quest to introduce reform, especially in the justice system."

Abdullah last month approved a new body of laws regulating the judicial system in Saudi Arabia, which rules on the basis of sharia, or Islamic law.