75-year-old widow to be flogged

Tuesday 10 March 2009 14:47

The sentencing of a widow to 40 lashes for mingling with two young men has sparked new criticism of Saudi Arabia.

Khamisa Sawadi, who is Syrian but was married to a Saudi, was convicted and sentenced last week for meeting with men who were not her immediate relatives.

The two men, including one who was Mrs Sawadi's late husband's nephew, were reportedly bringing her bread. They were also found guilty and sentenced to prison terms and lashes.

The woman's lawyer, Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, said today that he plans to appeal against the verdict, which also demands that Mrs Sawadi be deported after serving her prison term.

Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling and women from driving.

The playing of music, dancing and many movies also are a concern for hard-liners who believe they violate religious and moral values.

A special police unit called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice enforces these laws, patrolling public places to make sure women are covered and not wearing make-up, sexes do not mix, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque to worship.

But criticism of the religious police and judiciary has been growing in Saudi, where many say they exploit their broad mandate to interfere in people's lives.

Last month, the Saudi king dismissed the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing of TV network owners who broadcast "immoral content" - part of a shake-up signalling an effort to weaken the kingdom's hard-line Sunni Muslim establishment.

In Mrs Sawadi's case, she met the two 24-year-old men last April after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread.

The men - the nephew, Fahd al-Anzi, and his friend and business partner Hadiyan bin Zein - went to Mrs Sawadi's home in the city of al-Chamil, north of the Saudi capital Riyadh.

After delivering the bread, the two men were arrested by one of the religious police.

The court said it based its 3 March ruling on "citizen information" and testimony from Mr al-Anzi's father, who accused Mrs Sawadi of corruption.

The court verdict read: "Because she said she doesn't have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed."

Mrs Sawadi told the court that she considered Mr al-Anzi to be her son, because she breast-fed him when he was a baby, but the court denied her claim, saying she did not provide evidence.

In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers.

Mrs Sawadi commonly asked her neighbours for help after her husband died.

Some commentators have spoken out over the case, accusing the religious police of going too far.

This article is from The Belfast Telegraph

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