Saudi King Pardons Rape Victim

Rape victim is spared 200 lashes for being with a man who wasn't her husband.

ByABC News
February 19, 2009, 6:52 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 17, 2007 — -- A Saudi Arabian rape victim charged with jail time and 200 lashes has been pardoned by Saudi King Abdullah. The woman was jailed after being found in a car with a man to whom she was not related.

A group of men pulled her from the car and raped her, before she was arrested.

Once pardoned, the woman was released from jail and returned home to her family, officials say.

The monarch traditionally grants pardons in advance of Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday that begins Wednesday. Saudi Arabia's Justice Minister told Al-Jazeera daily newspaper that the king has the "right to overrule court judgements if he considered it benefiting the greater good."

The sentence spurred headlines and criticism from around the world. Human Rights Watch and other foreign observers, including the White House and U.S. presidential contenders Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, called her punishment and the circumstances surrounding it outrageous.

"The kingdom certainly took a lot of heat," Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist with the Congressional Research Service, told ABC News. "[The pardon] is not surprising in a case where it's so hard to defend what happened. They caved in."

In testimony exclusively obtained by ABC News the young woman described what happened and how she was treated in the months that followed.

"Everyone looks at me as if I'm wrong. I couldn't even continue my studies. I wanted to die. I tried to commit suicide twice," she reportedly said of her emotional state shortly after the attack.

The woman, known anonymously in the Saudi press as "Qatif Girl" for the eastern province town where the crime took place, was originally sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a state of "khalwa" seclusion with a male who's not a relative.

But the General Court of Qatif increased the punishment after she took her case to the press. Authorities deemed it an "attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media," according to Saudi Arabia's English-language newspaper Arab News.