The Saudi Ministry of Justice should immediately stop publishing statements aimed at damaging the reputation of a young Saudi rape victim who spoke out publicly about her ordeal and her efforts to find justice, Human Rights Watch said today.
In response to international outcry over the case, the Ministry of Justice published two statements on its website on November 20 and 24, 2007, alleging that the rape victim confessed to engaging in illicit acts and was undressed in a car prior to the rape. The second statement said that “the main reason the crime took place was because the woman and her companion, who exposed her to this heinous crime, did not follow the law [of prohibited privacy].” The ministry voiced regret that the media provided an “unjustified defense” of the woman. A representative of the ministry also appeared on television blaming her for the attack and strongly hinting that she had engaged in adultery.
“The Ministry of Justice’s response to criticism of its unjust verdict has been appalling,” said Farida Deif, researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch. “First, they attempted to silence this young woman, and now they’re trying to demonize her in the eyes of the Saudi public.”
On November 14, the General Court of Qatif sentenced the young woman to six months in prison and doubled her lashes as punishment for “illegal mingling” because she met an unrelated man in his car before a gang of seven men attacked and raped them. An official at the court said that her sentence was increased because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.” Judge Sa’d al-Muhanna also banned the woman’s lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahim, from the courtroom and from any future representations of her, for allegedly raising his voice in court. Among the points in the ministry’s charge sheet delivered to al-Lahim on November 19 is that he presented a complaint about the case to the governmental Human Rights Commission.
On November 27, Okaz newspaper published an interview with Judge Dr. Ibrahim bin Salih al-Khudairi of the Riyadh Appeals Court, in which he said that he would have sentenced her to death. The Riyadh Appeals Court, and possibly Judge al-Khudairi, is the court that will consider an appeal that the Saudi woman said she intends to file. Human Rights Watch said that, in light of his statement to the newspaper, Judge al-Khudairi must not be allowed to preside over any deliberations in the case. Such extrajudicial pronouncements by members of the judiciary undermine both their impartiality and the ability of the victim to have a fair hearing.
On November 24, a participant in a Saudi internet site (www.alsaha.com) published what appear to be parts of the initial verdict rendered in October 2006 in language strongly resembling the brief statement of the Ministry of Justice of November 24, 2007. The woman and her lawyer never received the initial verdict or the November 14 verdict, despite repeated attempts to obtain it. The internet participant wrote that one of the judges in the Qatif General Court is his source. Lawyer al-Lahim has said that the Ministry of Justice statement and, apparently, the verdict, relied on statements provided by the rapists in order to diminish their crime.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on King Abdullah to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer.