A Saudi judge told a conference on domestic violence that a man has the right to slap a wife who spends money wastefully and said women were as much to blame as men for increased spousal abuse, a Saudi newspaper reported.
The remarks do not carry the weight of law, as they were made out of court. But such public pronouncements by Saudi judges — who are also Islamic clerics — are often widely respected.
A rights activist decried the remarks and said she and other campaigners viewed them as the latest setback in women's efforts to gain the right to vote, drive, freely participate in politics and be protected from violence. Activists have become more vocal in recent years in their criticism of cases involving women's rights, including what many see as the religious police's harsh enforcement of the segregation of sexes.
"If a person gives 1,200 Saudi riyals ($320) to his wife and she spends 900 riyals ($240) to purchase an abaya (head-to-toe robe) from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment," Judge Hamad Al-Razine was quoted as saying by the English-language Arab News newspaper on Sunday.
Women protest remarks
The comments at a recent conference were given as part of an explanation for an increase in domestic violence in the country. The judge said women were equally responsible for the increase, the newspaper quoted him as saying.
The paper did not say exactly when the conference was held. The judge could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Women in the audience loudly protested the judge's remarks, the newspaper said.
Saudi Arabia bars women from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can sit in the kingdom's Cabinet. Women also cannot drive or travel without permission from a male guardian.
'Forbidden in Islam'
Sohaila Zenelabideen Hammad, spokeswoman of the Saudi National Center for Human Rights, told the Associated Press on Monday that the judge's remarks are reason for concern for being "too extreme."
"It is not acceptable, it is even forbidden in Islam to beat a woman on her face. ... No matter what the woman does, the man has no right whatsoever and under any circumstances to beat his wife on the face," said Hammad, who was not at the conference.
"Regrettably, there is a common understanding in the Arab and Islamic world that man is the master who looks down on the woman and has the right to do whatever he wants to her. This is wrong," Hammad said.
She said she was to attend a meeting later Monday with members of UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children, to discuss the issue.