Saudi FM says rape victim sentence under review

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said the kingdom's judiciary was reviewing a sentence of six months in jail and 200 lashes handed down to a gang rape victim, official media said on Tuesday.

"There is currently a review process being carried out into the ruling by the judicial system," the SPA news agency quoted Prince Saud al-Faisal as telling reporters from the US-hosted Middle East peace conference.

The sentence against the 19-year-old girl in the ultra-conservative Muslim state has attracted widespread international condemnation, including from human rights groups and the White House.

"What is aggravating in this matter is that individual acts like these are used to attack the Saudi people and its government," SPA quoted Prince Saud as saying.

The teenage victim, who has not been identified, was attacked at knifepoint by seven men after she was found in a car with a male companion who was not a relative, in breach of strict Saudi law.

In October 2006, a judge sentenced her to 90 lashes for being with the man -- a taboo in the conservative Muslim kingdom which imposes segregation of the sexes.

An appeal was launched against the sentence but despite the woman's ordeal the court ruled her punishment should be increased to 200 lashes and a six-month jail term.

Saudi Arabia's justice ministry said on Saturday the woman had admitted having an extramarital affair with the man in the car.

The assailants were initially sentenced to one to five years in jail, but those terms were also toughened on appeal to between two and nine years.

Their sentences fell short of the death penalty -- which could be imposed in a rape conviction -- due to the "lack of witnesses" and the "absence of confessions" as required by Islam, the justice ministry said.

The court also revoked the licence of the woman's lawyer, who has also been summoned by the justice ministry to appear before a disciplinary panel next month.