Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Ministry Defends Jail for Rape Victim

The Saudi judiciary on Tuesday defended a court verdict that sentenced a 19-year-old victim of a 2006 gang rape to six months in jail and 200 lashes because she was with an unrelated man when they were attacked.

The Shiite Muslim woman had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's rigid Islamic law requiring segregation of the sexes. On appeal, the Qatif General Court increased the punishment.

In Washington, the State Department expressed "astonishment" over the sentence, but spokesman Sean McCormack stopped short of stronger language against the close Middle East ally at a time when the Bush administration is seeking Saudi participation at a senior level in an Israeli-Palestinian conference next week in Annapolis.

But the Justice Ministry stood by the verdict Tuesday, saying in a statement that "charges were proven" against the woman for having been in a car with a man who was not her relative, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ministry implied the victim's sentence was increased because she spoke to reporters. It said the system allows an appeal "without resorting to provocation through media."

The seven men convicted of raping the woman were given prison sentences of two years to nine years.


Turnout Appears Light in Parliament Vote

Voter turnout in Jordan's parliamentary elections was lighter than in a 2003 vote, preliminary government figures showed, in a race marked by voter skepticism about the strength of democracy.

By late afternoon Tuesday, turnout stood at about 40 percent of eligible voters, the government said. That compared to 57 percent turnout reported by the government in 2003, the first parliamentary elections under King Abdullah II. Jordan restored parliament in 1989, ending martial law.

Opposition parties hold only a small minority of the 110 seats in the elected lower house, and parliament rarely challenges Abdullah's programs.

Bedawi al-Bettar, a lawyer, said he was voting for a trusted acquaintance after backing an Islamic party in previous races. "Eventually, I realized they are the same as the others," Bettar said of the Islamic politicians. "Talk and no action."

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