( AP ) - Saudi Arabia's Justice Ministry said a girl who it sentenced to jail time and flogging after being gang raped by seven men was an adulteress who invited the attack because at the time she was partially dressed in a parked car with her lover.
The statement from the ministry, carried by the Saudi Press Agency late Saturday, defended the court's decision to sentence the girl to six months in prison and 200 lashes for violating the country's strict sex segregation laws.
It also sought to ease international outrage over the case by discrediting the woman who had told reporters earlier that she was meeting a friend from high school when the attack occurred.
"The Saudi justice minister expressed his regret about the media reports over the role of the women in this case which put out false information and wrongly defended her," the statement said. "The charged girl is a married woman who confessed to having an affair with the man she was caught with."
Known only as the "Girl from Qatif," the 19-year-old rape victim said she was a newlywed who was meeting a high school friend in his car to retrieve a picture of herself from him when the attack occurred in the eastern city of Qatif. While in a car with him, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area where others waited, and then she and her companion were both raped.
The ministry's latest account of the incident alleges that the woman and her lover met in his car for a tryst "in a dark place where they stayed for a while."
"Then they were spotted by the other defendants as the woman was in an indecent condition as she had tossed away her clothes, then the assault occurred on her and the man," the statement added.
It said the sentence of prison and lashes, handed down last week following an appeal, was legal and followed the "the book of God and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad," noting that she had "confessed to doing what God has forbidden."
The woman and her husband were "convinced of the verdict and agreed to it," it said.
The girl was initially sentenced to prison and 90 lashes for being alone with a man not related to her. When her lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, appealed the sentence, he was removed from the case, his license was suspended and the penalty was doubled to 200 lashes.
The increase in sentence received heavy coverage in the international media and prompted expressions of astonishment from the U.S. government. Canada called it "barbaric."
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. Also, women in Saudi Arabia are often sentenced to flogging and even death for adultery and other crimes.
The seven men convicted of gang raping the woman were given prison sentences of two to nine years. The initial sentences for the men ranged from 10 months to five years in prison.
The case has sparked rare domestic debate about Saudi Arabia's legal system, which gives judges wide discretion in sentencing criminals, rules of evidence are shaky and sometimes no lawyers are present.
Justice in Saudi Arabia is administered by a system of religious courts and judges appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council. Those courts and judges have complete discretion to set sentences, except in cases where Sharia outlines a punishment, such as capital crimes.
That means that no two judges would likely hand down the same verdict for similar crimes. A rapist, for instance, could receive anywhere from a light or no sentence to death, depending on the judge's discretion.