Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Saudis defend sentence for rape victim; Reuters mischaracterizes administration reaction

Saudi Arabia is defending a court's decision to flog and imprison a 19-year-old woman who was gang raped by seven men.

The woman was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail.

Ruling according to Saudi Arabia's strict reading of Islamic law, a court had originally sentenced the woman to 90 lashes and the rapists to jail terms of between 10 months and five years. It blamed the woman for being alone with an unrelated man.

Last week the Supreme Judicial Council increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison and ordered the rapists to serve between two and nine years in jail.
The harsher punishment was imposed after the woman appealed the original sentence.

The court also took the unusual step of initiating disciplinary procedures against her lawyer, Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, forcibly removing him from the case for having talked about it to the media.

"The Ministry of Justice welcomes constructive criticism ... The system allows appeals without resort to the media," said Tuesday's statement issued on the official news agency SPA.
In an earlier post, I noted the muted response, as reported by Reuters, from the Bush administration which has claimed for years that the enfranchisement of Arab women is a crucial element of the president's "War on Terror."

A Bush administration spokesman offered the mildest critique imaginable of a Saudi court's decision to have a 19-year-old rape victim flogged and jailed for having ridden in a car with a male non-relative prior to her attack.


    "This is a part of a judicial procedure overseas in the court of a sovereign country," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack when asked to comment on the case.

    "That said, most would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens," added McCormack.

    McCormack declined to directly criticize the Saudi government, or the legal system, which has made a series of erratic verdicts in recent months.

    "I don't have anything else to offer," said McCormack when pressed on what he meant that people would be "astonished" over such verdicts.

    Asked whether the Saudi authorities should reconsider the sentence against the woman, McCormack said he could not "get involved in specific court cases in Saudi Arabia dealing with its own citizens."
Yet in this latest telling of the tale, the administration's response is upgraded from the original characterization of "mild."

The ruling provoked rare criticism from the United States, which is trying to persuade Saudi Arabia to attend a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland next week.

A State Department spokesman told reporters on Monday that "most (people) would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens".
Yes, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack did say that most people would find themselves "relatively astonished" that any court anywhere would order the flogging and incarceration of a woman who was raped. However, that sentence is wildly misleading when it is extracted from the full statement in the earlier story, which buries the "criticism" in a sea equivocation. The original story even indicates that "McCormack declined to directly criticize the Saudi government."

Frankly, the only thing "rare" about the Bush administration's reaction so far is the degree to which it demonstrates our government's apparent indifference to this barbaric, dehumanizing act.