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Saudi Arabia: Flogging of 75-year-old woman for 'immorality' should be halted

Amnesty International is calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to halt the flogging and imprisonment of a 75-year-old woman and two younger men for moral “crimes”.

The Saudi Minister of Interior is reported to have ordered the immediate detention and flogging of Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, the elderly woman, along with two men known only as Fahad and Hadyan.

In March this year the three were found guilty of being in the company of members of the opposite sex who are not close relatives, an offence known as khilwa in Saudi Arabia. Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi and Fahad were sentenced to 40 lashes and four months’ imprisonment, and Hadyan to 60 lashes and six months. Khamisa was also sentenced to be deported to her native country Syria after her prison term.

The three were originally arrested in April 2008 by the Mutawa’een, Saudi’s religious police. At their first trial, Fahad and Hadyan said in their defence that they were delivering bread to Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi. Fahad argued that the offence of khilwa did not apply since he was related to Khamisa, who breast-fed him when he was a child. The court rejected this argument and the verdict was subsequently upheld by an appeals court. Attempts to lodge an appeal at Saudi’s Supreme Court were recently rejected.

Amnesty considers the criminalisation of khilwa is in violation of the right to freedom of expression and to privacy as set out in international human rights standards, and if they are jailed the organisation would adopt the three as prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa deputy director Philip Luther said:

“It is abhorrent that an elderly woman is at risk of 40 lashes. The flogging of any individual is cruel and inhumane.

“We urge the authorities to prevent the imprisonment and flogging of Khamisa, Fahad and Hadyan.”

In Saudi Arabia flogging is mandatory for a number of offences and can also be used at the discretion of judges as an alternative or in addition to other punishments.

Sentences can range from dozens to tens of thousands of lashes, and are usually carried out in batches, at intervals ranging from two weeks to one month. The highest number of lashes imposed in a single case recorded by Amnesty was 40,000 lashes, imposed this year in a case of a man tried on murder charges.

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