Saudi king pardons gang-rape victim?

Sure to be controversial in the Kingdom, which makes it the bizarro world version of the Dumond case. The Saudis had been spinning the court’s decision to impose 200 lashes on her as one of the occasional lamentable quirks of an independent judiciary, but it wasn’t quite true: Human Rights Watch told ABC weeks ago that a pardon from the king or the provincial governor would spare her, whatever shari’a might have to say about the subject.

Amazing what a little western media attention can do when it’s properly applied.

Saudi Justice Minister Abdullah bin Muhammed al-Sheik told al-Jazirah newspaper that the pardon does not mean the king doubted the country’s judges, but instead acted in the “interests of the people.”

“The king always looks into alleviating the suffering of the citizens when he becomes sure that these verdicts will leave psychological effects on the convicted people, though he is convinced and sure that the verdicts were fair,” al-Jazirah quoted al-Sheik as saying.

The significance of a pardon vis-a-vis a reversal on appeal isn’t lost on feminists:

Fawziya al-Oyouni, a women’s rights activist, welcomed the report but said it was not enough.

“We don’t want to rely simply on pardons. We need harsher sentences for the guilty parties and we want to feel safe,” she said, citing another rape case in the Eastern Province this month.

Pardons are arbitrary and depend on the whim of the executive; she’s been spared not as a matter of right or of justice, but of paternal mercy. A precarious position, needless to say. The odd thing is, I think there is a genuine parallel with Dumond here: In both cases the governing authority was hoping the justice system would resolve the issue in such a way that they didn’t have to intervene and grant clemency themselves. Back in our very first post on this subject I noted how strange it was that the Arab News, a Saudi house organ, was criticizing the judiciary for the decision. It seemed like a way of pressuring them into reversing themselves by stirring up bad PR so that Abdullah wouldn’t have to act. I guess the word came down that if he wanted something done he’d have to do it himself. We’ll see what the fallout is, if any.