Saudi journalist sentenced 60 lashes

RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi court sentenced a female journalist to 60 lashes in a case brought after a Lebanese television channel she worked for aired the sex confession of a Saudi man, the reporter and a lawyer said.

Rosana, 22, who did not want her full name disclosed, said a court in Jeddah convicted her on Saturday on grounds that the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. she worked for did not have proper authorization to operate in the Islamic kingdom.

The ruling follows the sentencing by the same court of Mazen Abdul-Awad to five years in jail and 1,000 lashes earlier in October after he appeared on an LBC show and talked about his sexual exploits.

The show has sparked a public outcry in the U.S. ally, one of the world’s most conservative countries, where clerics have wide-ranging influence and control.

“I had nothing to do with Mazen Abdul-Jawad’s show. The verdict was just because I cooperated with LBC,” the female journalist told Reuters.

LBC is a popular channel in Saudi Arabia, and many Saudis tune in to its Western-style entertainment programs and talk shows.

“I was not aware (that LBC was unlicensed), but in the end this is the verdict and I accept it. I don’t want to appeal,” Rosana said.

The court could not be reached, while a spokesman for the information ministry in Riyadh declined comment.

“This is the first case in which a journalist was tried at a court of summary jurisdiction for an offense relating to the nature of his or her profession,” said Sulaiman al-Jumaie, a lawyer who defended Abdul-Jawad.

Saudi authorities closed the LBC offices after the show was aired. Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is a shareholder in LBC.

Abdul-Jawad, a divorced father of four, was arrested in August after discussing his premarital sexual encounters on LBC’s “In Bold Red” program.

Judges, who are clerics of Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi school of Islam, have wide powers of discretion and can issue sentences according to their interpretation of Islamic law, which critics said has led to some arbitrary rulings.

King Abdullah has begun to reform education and the judiciary in recent years, partly to discourage Islamic militancy, but he faces resistance from clerics.

Editing by Michael Roddy