Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has pardoned the victim of a gang rape, whose sentencing of six months in prison and 200 lashes sparked international condemnation.

Justice minister Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim al-Sheikh hailed the king's decision to grant the pardon in a statement carried by the official Saudi press agency, SPA.

The pardon represents a rare instance in which Saudi rulers have publicly challenged Saudi Arabia's conservative clerics.

In Washington, the White House welcomed word of the Saudi pardon, saying it was the "right decision."

The victim, who was 18 years old when raped, was attacked at knifepoint by seven men after she was found in a car with a male companion who was not a relative.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives.

She was initially sentenced to several months in prison and 90 lashes, but her sentence was toughened after she appealed.

The seven men convicted of raping her were sentenced from two to nine years in prison.

A rape conviction typically carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but justices did not apply it to this case, citing a "lack of witnesses" and the "absence of confessions."

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.