November 16, 2007 / 12:19 PM / in 10 years

Saudi court orders lashes, prison for rape victim

RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi court has increased the sentence given to a gang rape victim to 200 lashes of the whip and six months in prison and ordered disciplinary action against her lawyer for talking to the media, the lawyer said on Friday.

A series of erratic verdicts have focused attention on the Saudi legal system, much of which remains uncodified and which does not recognize the concept of precedent.

The 19-year-old Shi‘ite woman from the town of Qatif in the Eastern Province was raped by seven men in 2006. A court had originally sentenced the woman to 90 lashes and the rapists to jail terms of between 10 months and five years.

The victim’s lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem told Reuters another court had increased her sentence on Wednesday to 200 lashes and six months in prison. It ordered the rapists to serve between two and nine years in jail.

“The court blamed the girl for being alone with unrelated men, but it should have taken the humane view that it cannot be considered her fault,” Lahem said, adding the case still has an appeal stage before the verdict becomes final.

He said the judges had also taken the unusual step of suspending Lahem from the case and initiating a disciplinary procedure that could see him barred from practicing law.

Lahem said the case highlighted deep problems in the Saudi justice system which rights activists hope judicial reforms announced this year by King Abdullah will help to solve.

“The aim of the reforms is to create a new judicial reality,” he said.

Clerics who adhere to Saudi Arabia’s austere Sunni form of Islamic sharia law dominate the legal system, with Shi‘ite Muslims also judged according to Sunni Islamic law.

The state-affiliated Human Rights Commission says current efforts to codify the penal code will limit the chances of arbitrary sentencing by judges.

Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Catherine Evans

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