News24

Lashes for being without a man

2010-03-03 22:17

Riyadh - A Saudi woman is to be lashed 300 times and jailed for 18 months for filing complaints against court officials and appearing in court without a male guardian, a human rights group said on Wednesday.

Sawsan Salim was convicted last month in a court in Rass, in Qassim province in the north, after petitioning Riyadh officials, including King Abdullah, over what she alleged was years of abuse by local justice officials, the US-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Despite her request for intervention, two local judges charged her with filing 118 "spurious complaints" against officials, including the judges themselves, and "appearing... without a male guardian" between 2004 and 2008.

On January 25, she was convicted after a month-long trial before two judges, one of whom was a plaintiff in the case and the original target of Salim's harassment allegations, according to Human Rights Watch.

The group has called for higher authorities to quash the verdict.

Salim alleges that ever since she rejected local judge Habib Abdullah al-Aqsa's repeated urging to divorce her husband, who had been jailed over debts, in 2004, that judge and other officials have continually created trouble for her.

No male guardian

On numerous occasions through 2008, HRW said, officials "chided Salim for not being accompanied by a male guardian during her visits to their offices".

Under Saudi Arabia's ultra-strict version of Islam, women are not supposed to move around outside the home without a male guardian.

Salim and her lawyer petitioned top officials several times over the years of harassment.

"She owns a business, and they were making things very difficult for her," said Nadya Khalife, a women's rights researcher for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch.

"She didn't keep things quiet."

Two local judges, including Aqsa, countered with their own accusations, and their case went to trial in December, resulting in the conviction. Aqsa was one of the judges appointed to try the case.

"In Saudi Arabia, being a woman going about her legitimate business without a man's protection is apparently a crime," Khalife said.