Gang-rape case rattles Saudi justice system
Teen victim sentenced to 90 lashes — One attacker received lighter penalty
AL-AWWAMIYA, Saudi Arabia (AP)â€”When the teenager went to the police a few months ago to report she was gang-raped by seven men, she never imagined the judge would punish her â€” and that she would be sentenced to more lashes than one of her alleged rapists received.
The story of the Girl of Qatif, as the rape victim has been called by the media here, has triggered a rare debate about Saudi Arabia’s legal system, in which judges have wide discretion in punishing a criminal, rules of evidence are shaky and sometimes no defence lawyers are present.
The result, critics say, are sentences left to the whim of judges. These include one in which a group of men got heavier sentences for harassing women than the men in the Girl of Qatif rape case or three men who were convicted of raping a boy. In another, a woman was ordered to divorce her husband against her will based on a demand by her relatives.
In the case of the Girl of Qatif, she was sentenced to 90 lashes for being alone in a car with a man to whom she was not married â€” a crime in this strictly segregated country â€” at the time she was raped by a group of other men.
Several newspapers in North America are running this story from the very capable Associated Press correspondent Donna Abu-Nasr. More than anything else, it shows why Saudi Arabia needs to shift away from Sharia courts for most crimes: there is simply too much variation in the courts to give any sense of justice in either convictions or sentencing. The existing judicial system may have worked well for 1,400 years, but it is no longer working adequately and is making Saudis question the overall fairness of the courts.
This story—and the one about the couple forceably divorced by another court for the reasons of ‘tribal incompatibility’ (see below) —have been widely covered in the Saudi media, resulting in floods of letters complaining about the system.
A SAUDI woman imprisoned after a court granted a divorce against her will has appealed to King Abdullah to help reunite her with her husband.
Fatima al-Timani, 34, has been in jail since July with her children, Nuha, two and Sulaiman, who turned one this month. She can go free if she returns to her estranged blood-family, who engineered the annulment last year because they despised her husband, Mansour. But she insisted: “I’m leaving this place [prison] on one condition only: that I go back to my husband.
“I don’t want money or anything else. I just want to go back to my husband and live with my children,” she said in an interview with Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper.
The case has riveted the usually reserved Saudi media, which has been sympathetic to the couple who married for love over four years ago in a country where most marriages are arranged.
The judge who divorced the couple was recently lampooned on a popular Saudi television show.
The couple had been married for over three years when two of Mrs Timani’s half-brothers demanded they divorce on the grounds of “tribal incompatibility” and took the case to court.
They claimed Mansour Timani, 37, lied about his tribal background to enhance his social status. He denies the charge. Mr Timani was allowed to leave prison. He refused at first, but decided he could mount a better appeal on the outside.
The marriage was declared void in July last year, without the couple even being in court. They were arrested by the secret police for living in sin.
The case is now before an appeals court.
It’s good that there is, at least, a system through which the king can be appealed to overturn blatantly unjust court decisions. I think it most likely that both of these will be overturned, or at least receive a royal pardon. But that’s not enough. When people lose faith in their courts, society becomes extremly destabilized, questioning the very foundations of that society. This is an urgent problem that needs fixing.
These demonstrate that there’s a systemic failure that critically needs addressing.
No doubt, there will be many who see complaints about the practice of law in the KSA as an attack on Islam. It is not. It is a deserved attack on a system that is no longer fulfilling the needs of a people for a clear understanding of the law and its consequences. By leaving the matter of people’s freedoms and rights in the hands of thousands of variously educated and trained judges, with no guidelines for sentencing or even in deciding guilt or innocence, only discord can result.