Thursday, November 29, 2007

Saudi Law: Can't Punish Female Victims Too Harshly + Gay Sex Is OK If It's Rape By Men Also Raping A Woman, Pt. 1

The Sunni Saudi court system has justifiably received world wide admonishment for sentencing the Shiite victim of a brutal, unbelievably sadistic gang rape to 90 lashes. (The Independent has the deeply disturbing story here). On Wednesday it was announced that her lawyer's successful appeal led to increased punishment for her Sunni rapists. The seven animals' original sentences ranging from 10 months to 5 years were boosted to run from 2 years to 9 years. At first glance the rapists' increased sentences could appear to be one in a series of small measures the Saudi government has taken lately to improve treatment of women under that country's strict interpretation of Sharia Law. It's not.

The body of Islamic Law, Sharia, is open to a variety of interpretations (and subject to selective application by the all-male judiciary). However three aspects appear almost universal:

  1. Women who are raped are frequently punished more severely than their attackers.
  2. Courts in those countries ruled by Sharia law are extremely charitable in their handling of men who commit violent crimes against women. This is especially true of sex crimes. A rapist's confession can been thrown out on a "technicality." That same "technicality " does not apply to the victim's case even if it would "prove" to "exonerate" the victim.
  3. Minority Shiites cannot expect objectivity from a Sunni legal system and vice versa.
The Sunni Saudi judges, who have repeatedly retaliated against the Shiite victim, have increased her punishment to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison! CNN sheds light on a vindictive legal system that can't keep its stories straight:
The judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media."
The ministry has previously said the woman's punishment was increased after further evidence came to light against her when she appealed her original sentence.
In contrast, her story has remained consistent throughout. Not that this benefited her in anyway whatsoever. Her "trial" was worse than a farce. It was seized as an opportunity by Sunni males to heap abuse upon a Shiite woman who had been raped for what they perceived as her "crime": being raped.

Appearing in a closed courtroom, she was subjected to threats by her Sunni attackers and berated by one of the Sunni judges. Worst of all she found herself denied "any chance to prove her innocence or describe how she was a victim
of multiple brutal rapes." Having found himself unable to defend his client in court, her lawyer stepped up his efforts to get her story out. CNN:
Al-Lahim previously said the woman met the man at a shopping mall in order to retrieve an innocuous photograph from him. He has also said the man was blackmailing his client and forced her to have the meeting to save her engagement and avoid embarrassment.
The need to avoid embarrassment is a particularly powerful motivation in Arab culture. Taken in this context her story rings true. Understandably, most of our planet found it incomprehensible for her to be charged with any crime. Suddenly it's the Sunni Saudi
government that is embarrassed. They've responded by taking every opportunity to vilify this Shiite woman. The latest official Saudi government smear via CNN:
The woman had an "illegitimate relationship" with a man who was not her husband, and that both "exposed themselves to this heinous crime."
(I'm glad they cleared this up for me. I always have a problem getting passed the whole pursuit-of-happiness/don't-blame-the-victim/
innocent-until-proven-guilty/feminist frame of reference encoded within my DNA).

The victim's lawyer did not escape unscathed either. His clamor for justice may cost him dearly:

Judge Saad al-Muhanna fom the Qatif General Court also barred al-Lahim from defending his client and revoked his law license, al-Lahim said. The attorney has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month.

At this disciplinary hearing, Al-Lahim could be slapped with a three-year suspension or disbarment. Regardless of the final outcome, the court's numerous retaliatory actions in this case will have an incredibly chilling effect on any Saudi woman (and her lawyer) considering whether or not to seek justice after being victimized by a violent crime.

The Saudi court's shameful conduct in this trial goes far beyond their harassment and cruel treatment of the victim and her lawyer. Part 2 will look at the court's hypocrisy and duplicity in dealing with male perpetrators of violence against women.


Ed.'s note: Call me oversensitive. I cringe at labeling anyone who has been raped as a "victim." It comes from knowing and loving too many people who have been sexually abused. They are amazing, resilient and strong folks. "Victim" appears an insult. Yet to say otherwise minimizes the terrible crime committed against them. That strikes me as far worse. Regardless of the crime, those upon whom criminals prey are called victims.

"So victims" it is.