A Saudi court will review the case of a teenage gang rape victim sentenced to jail and flogging after she was convicted of violating the country's strict sex segregation laws, the foreign minister said Tuesday.
The remarks by Prince Saud al-Faisal, made in the United States and carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, were the latest in response to a salvo of international condemnation of Saudi judicial authorities' handling of the case.
It was also a sharp turn from a statement Saturday in which the Saudi Justice Ministry condemned the 19-year-old woman _ raped by seven men and then sentenced to six months prison and 200 lashes _ as an adulteress who had allegedly confessed to cheating on her husband.
In the statement, the ministry said the flogging sentence would be carried out and condemned foreign interference. The statement likely sought to ease international outrage over the case by discrediting the woman.
On Tuesday, SPA quoted al-Faisal as saying "the Saudi judiciary will review the case."
But al-Faisal was also on the defensive and maintained the case was being used against Saudi authorities.
"What is outraging about this case is that it is being used against the Saudi government and people," he said, speaking in Annapolis, Md., where he was attending the U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference.
Known only as the "Girl from Qatif," the victim said she was a newlywed who was meeting a high school friend in his car to retrieve a picture of herself from him when the attack occurred in the eastern city of Qatif in 2006.
While she was in the car, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area where others waited, and then she and her companion were both raped.
The ministry's account Saturday alleged that the woman and her lover met in his car for a tryst "in a dark place where they stayed for a while."
The girl was initially sentenced to prison and 90 lashes for being alone with a man not related to her. An appeals court then doubled the lashes to 200.
The increase in sentence received heavy coverage in the international media and prompted expressions of astonishment from the U.S. government. Canada called it "barbaric."
Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives. Also, women in Saudi Arabia are often sentenced to flogging and even death for adultery and other crimes.
The seven men convicted of gang raping the woman were given prison sentences of two to nine years.
The case has sparked rare domestic debate about the Saudi legal system, which gives judges wide discretion in sentencing and where rules of evidence are shaky and sometimes no lawyers are present.
Justice in Saudi Arabia is administered by a system of religious courts and judges appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council. Those courts and judges have complete discretion to set sentences, except in cases where Sharia outlines a punishment, such as capital crimes.
That means that no two judges would likely hand down the same sentence for similar crimes. A rapist, for instance, could receive anywhere from a light or no sentence to death, depending on the judge's discretion.