Undeterred by a damning Amnesty International report detailing widespread and regular human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, a court in the Islamic kingdom has sentenced nine young men to up to 2,600 lashes each for so-called deviant sexual behaviour.
A Saudi police official yesterday told the Associated Press that a court in the western city of Qunfada had ruled that the men were guilty oftransvestism and had participated in "deviant" sexual acts with each other.
The sentences - which blatantly violate the UN convention on the use of torture and cruel and degrading punishment - will be carried out at 15-day intervals, during which the men are expected to recover sufficiently from the previous beating - a timetable of more than two years for the penalty.
The official, who reportedly requested anonymity, said five of the defendants, who were also dispatched to prison for six years, will receive 2,600 lashes. Four others were jailed for five years with a mere 2,400 lashes.
Although the number of lashes is appallingly high to anyone unfamiliar with Saudi Arabia's use of Sharia law - which has fixed punishments for certain sex "offences" - they are not the most draconian use of the whip recorded in the country. The worst case found by Amnesty involved an Egyptian sentenced to 4,000 lashes after being convicted of robbery in 1990.
The court's ruling comes as Saudi Arabia, a founding member of the UN, is seeking to dampen criticism of its dismal human rights records, which has come under fresh fire after Amnesty published a report accusing it of torture, amputations, secret trials, arbitrary arrests and public beheadings.