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Rights Group Defends Saudi Lawyer in Rape Case

Human rights groups in the West are protesting disciplinary proceedings against a Saudi lawyer defending a gang-rape victim who was sentenced to 200 lashes. The hearing against the lawyer was adjourned Wednesday until an undetermined date. VOA's Alex Villarreal monitors the case from Washington.

Human rights group Amnesty International released a statement Tuesday calling for all charges against the lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, to be dropped.

Saudi Arabia's state prosecutor accused Lahem of "insulting" Saudi Arabia's Supreme Judicial Council and "disobeying" the judiciary's rules and regulations when he publicly criticized the sentencing of his client. The court has already withdrawn Lahem's license, and he could now face disbarment.

Lamri Chirouf, Amnesty's researcher on Saudi Arabia, says Lahem should not be punished for doing his job.

"That's one of the main concerns we have is that he will probably be penalized for his defense of this young woman, which he shouldn't be subjected to, because he was only carrying out his duties as guaranteed to him by international standards," said Chirouf.

Lahem's client, known only as the "Girl of Qatif," after her hometown, was in a car with a male friend when a gang of seven men attacked and raped them. A Saudi court sentenced her a year ago to 90 lashes for being alone with a man unrelated to her.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law, women are not allowed to appear in public with men other than their relatives.

Lahem denounced the court's decision and appealed. The court increased the victim's sentence last week to 200 lashes and six months in prison. Officials said they increased the sentence because she spoke to the media.

The case has sparked international outrage. During a news conference Tuesday, President Bush expressed disappointment in Saudi Arabia for the court's decision to punish the girl.

"What happens if this happened to my daughter? How would I react? I would have been very emotional, of course," he said. "I would have been angry at those who committed the crime. And I would be angry at a state that didn't support the victim."

The seven men convicted of raping the woman and her male companion received sentences ranging from two to nine years in prison.

The case against the victim is still subject to review by Saudi Arabia's highest court.