Qatif rape case
The Qatif rape case (Arabic: قضية اغتصاب فتاة القطيف) is a much-publicized gang rape case. The victims were a Shia teenage girl from Qatif (Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia) and her male companion, who were kidnapped and gang-raped by seven Saudi men in mid-2006. A Saudi Sharia court sentenced the perpetrators to varying sentences involving 80 to 1,000 lashes and imprisonment up to ten years for four of them. The court also sentenced the two victims to six months in prison and 90 lashes each for "being alone with a man who is not a relative" in a parked car. The appeals court doubled the victims' sentences in late 2007 as punishment for the heavy media coverage of the event in the international press regarding the treatment of women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Saudi judicial practices. In December 2007 the Saudi King Abdullah issued an official pardon for the two victims, citing his ultimate authority to revise "discretionary" punishments in accordance with the public good, although the pardon did not reflect any lack of confidence in the Saudi justice system or in the fairness of the verdicts.
In an ABC news interview, the girl said:
I [was] 19 years old. I had a relationship with someone on the phone. We were both 16. I had never seen him before. I just knew his voice. He started to threaten me, and I got afraid. He threatened to tell my family about the relationship. Because of the threats and fear, I agreed to give him a photo of myself.
A few months [later], I asked him for the photo back but he refused. I had gotten married to another man. He said, 'I'll give you the photo on the condition that you come out with me in my car.' I told him we could meet at a souk [market] near my neighborhood city plaza in Qatif.
He started to drive me home. We were 15 minutes from my house. I told him that I was afraid and that he should speed up. We were about to turn the corner to my house when they [another car] stopped right in front of our car. Two people got out of their car and stood on either side of our car. The man on my side had a knife. They tried to open our door. I told the individual with me not to open the door, but he did. He let them come in. I screamed.One of the men brought a knife to my throat. They told me not to speak. They pushed us to the back of the car and started driving. We drove a lot, but I didn't see anything since my head was forced down.—
The teen victim provided more details in interviews published in Arabic with the Human Rights Watch and an Associated Press reporter, Farida Deif, who met her in a face-to-face interview. The interviews were published in the Arabic Saiydati magazine and MSNBC:
I knew him when I was ten, but I only knew him through telephone conversations, his voice was all I knew about him. He then threatened to tell my family about it if I didn’t give him a picture of myself. Months later I asked him to give it back since I got engaged to be married, so we agreed to meet near the City Plaza mall located fifteen minutes away from my house. When we were heading back, a car stopped right in front of his and two men carrying knives came out. I told him not to unlock the doors but he did, and I started screaming. They drove for a long time while we were forced to keep our heads down. When we arrived I noticed a lot of palm trees. They took me out to a dark area and forced me to take off my clothes. The first man with the knife raped me. He destroyed me. I thought about running away but where could I go to looking like this? Another man came in and did the same. I was about to faint. For more than two hours I asked them to leave me alone, I begged them. The third man was violent and the fourth almost strangled me. The fifth and sixth were even more brutal. When the seventh man finished I couldn't feel myself anymore. He was so fat I couldn't breathe. Then they all did it again. When they dropped me home I couldn't walk, my mom opened the door and said I looked sick. I couldn't tell anyone and for a whole week I couldn't eat, but later I went to the hospital.
In other interviews, more of the victims' relatives spoke up about how the assailants used pictures they took of them during the rape and they taunted her about the phone numbers they got from her cell phone and threatened her and her family. Parts of these interviews were published in Saiydati magazine.
Court's findings and verdicts
Four months after the assault, the female victim and her husband, along with their lawyer, decided to bring the case to court. A trial date was set in October 2006 and she was sentenced to 90 lashes for "being alone with a man who is not a relative," which is considered an offense in strict Wahhabi jurisprudence. It is widely condemned that Saudi law literally depends on Sharia laws since judges' interpretations of it are not based on any written legal code. Each judge interprets it in his own way.
After the appeal, the Supreme Judicial Council granted a retrial. The second court rulings made headlines in Saudi Arabia and around the world, although it occurred during a time of important local and regional events. On November 13, 2007, the Qatif court sentenced the female rape victim and her companion, who was also raped by the seven men, to six months in jail and 200 lashes. The Saudi Justice Ministry itself officially stated that the woman's sentence (originally based on being alone with an unrelated man) was increased after she admitted to having an extramarital affair with the man whom she had given the picture to. Adultery is a crime in Saudi Arabia, so for committing adultery and for lying to the police about the circumstances of the rape, her sentence was increased. "The Saudi justice minister expressed his regret about the media reports over the role of the woman in this case which put out false information and wrongly defend her."
The sentences of the seven men found guilty of abducting and repeatedly raping the young woman and her male companion were also increased to between two and nine years each. The assailants' were not given the death penalty (the normal punishment for rape) because according to the Ministry of Justice there were no witnesses and the initial confession made by the rapists was retracted.
Removing the victim’s lawyer
Among other sources of news, The Guardian reported on November 17, 2007 that:
the victim's lawyer Al-Lahem's critics have called him an infidel and 'lawyer of homosexuals'. In the past he has been jailed and banned from traveling abroad.
Abdulrahman al-Lahem, a human rights activist who has represented his clients in many controversial and sensitive trials in the past, was accused by the judges of being "disruptive to the court," "disrespectful," and "showing ignorance of the court procedures," and so had his license suspended.
He was ordered to appear before a disciplinary committee at the Ministry of Justice on December 5, 2007, charged with criticizing the judiciary and publicly campaigning in the media.
Lawyer Khaled Al-Mutairi represented al-Lahem at a closed-door hearing in front of a disciplinary committee at the Justice Ministry in Riyadh before a three-member panel consisting of two judges and a lawyer. The hearing was postponed to an unspecified date and on January 19, 2008, al-Lahem's law license was returned to him (confiscated on November 14, 2007), although risk of the case being resumed remains. Al-Lahem declined to comment.
In a special report, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation channel covered the case in a show widely anticipated by many Saudi audiences. The show aired a live debate between al-Lahem and Ministry of Justice consultant and former judge Abdul-Mohsen Al-Obaikan. The female victim’s husband participated via phone. The husband defended his wife in a surprising showing of open-mindedness for a man from this part of the world, where rape victims and their families are almost always silent. He explained: "I'm not lacking in manhood or an Arab man's honor for defending a so-called 'cheating wife'," then added, "I feel that in this catastrophe she exercised bad judgment by meeting this man, but how can you [Al-Obaikan] or anyone say she committed adultery?" In other interviews he showed further support of his wife and said that "she shocked him when she insisted on pursuing justice although she is facing a harsh penalty." He also expressed his worries over her deteriorating physical and mental health.
By late November 2007, she was under effective house arrest and forbidden to speak at the risk of being taken into custody at any time. Her family's movements were being monitored by the religious police and their telephones were tapped.
On December 17, 2007, Saudi newspapers reported that King Abdullah had issued a pardon for the girl, citing his ultimate authority as monarch to overrule "discretionary" punishments (punishments not expressly prescribed by Islamic legal canon) in accordance with the public good. However, he maintained that the pardon did not reflect any lack of confidence in the Saudi justice system or the initial verdicts, and in fact the King trusted "that the verdicts are just and fair."
Although the pardon was good news for the girl from Qatif, human rights activists voiced concern that it was not a practical solution to the problem, as "the pardon means that she did something wrong and was kindly pardoned later." They called for reform of the law and clear legislation that differentiates between rape and adultery, as there are many similar cases which do not receive such international exposure and not every victim will get a royal pardon afterward.
- Human Rights Watch - Human Rights Watch called on Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz 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.
- Then Sen. Hillary Clinton - "The latest example is the punishment of 200 lashes that a Saudi Arabian court has given to a victim - the victim - of a gang rape. This is an outrage." Clinton said in a statement.
- Then Sen. Barack Obama - "That the victim was sentenced at all is unjust, but that the court doubled the sentence because of efforts to call attention to the ruling is beyond unjust, I strongly urge the Department of State to condemn this ruling." Obama wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
- Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal - During the Annapolis Peace Summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters that he hoped the sentence would be revised, adding that "the ruling was used to vilify his government even though it was not responsible because courts are independent". "and the disturbing thing is that such usage of individual acts are meant to insult the Saudi people and the Saudi government."
- The Saudi Ministry of Justice's official statement - In an unprecedented step and a rather historic reaction from a governmental body in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Justice has issued a statement on the 24th of November 2007 through the official Saudi Press Agency "welcoming objective criticism that benefits the general good, away from emotional responses."
- Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir - In a statement that was sent to CNN, Al-Jubeir stated that "justice will prevail."
- The U.S. State Department - "The State Department voiced "astonishment" at the sentence, but stopped short of calling for it to be changed."
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- Saudi Press Agency Statement prt.3
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- CNN Arabic news
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