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Saudi Islamist preacher on trial in daughter's slaying

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Saad Abedine, CNN
February 7, 2013 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
  • Lama Al-Ghamdi, 5, was hospitalized for her injuries last March and died in October
  • Activists and Lama's mother accuse her father, Fayhan Al-Ghamdi, of beating her
  • Attempts to reach the father have been unsuccessful
  • Activist: Case highlights need to better protect Saudi women, children from domestic violence

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(CNN) -- Outrage is mounting in Saudi Arabia about the case of a 5-year-old girl who died after allegedly being beaten and tortured by her father, who activists say is an Islamist preacher.

Lama Al-Ghamdi was admitted to King Saud Hospital in Riyadh last March after suffering extensive injuries, including broken ribs, a crushed skull, bruising and burns. Family, activists and officials say she died of her wounds in late October.

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Lama's mother and several high-profile activists in Saudi Arabia accuse the girl's father, Fayhan Al-Ghamdi, of committing those crimes. Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission, a government-backed rights group, confirmed that Al-Ghamdi has been accused of torturing his daughter and that he is on trial for crimes leading to her death.

Attempts to reach Al-Ghamdi via activists, government officials and King Saud Hospital have been unsuccessful.

Lama\'s tragic story has inspired an online campaign for women\'s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Lama's tragic story has inspired an online campaign for women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

"My dear child is dead, and all I want now is justice so I can close my eyes and know she didn't die in vain," the mother, Syeda Mohammed Ali, told CNN. "She was brutally tortured in the most shocking ways."

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Activists say Al-Ghamdi is an Islamist evangelist popular in Saudi Arabia for his televised appearances and for speaking on air about the rewards of repenting to God. But they also say he only fancies himself as a cleric and is not recognized by the clerical establishment.

Some media reports say that Al-Ghamdi was sentenced to pay blood money for Lama's death, and others say that he has been released from jail. But Mohammed Almadi, with the Human Rights Commission, told CNN that the father has been in prison for about eight months and has been accused of the torture that led to the girl's death.

Lama's mother says the next hearing in the case will take place in about two weeks.

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"We have appointed a lawyer to assist the mother in the case," said Almadi, who added that there was a hearing Sunday and that the case is still under review. "Reports that the accused is out of prison are incorrect. The case is still actively being studied."

At the Sunday hearing, Lama's mother tried to bring her own case against Al-Ghamdi.

"The Human Rights Commission considers this case to be not just an assault against Lama," Almadi said, "but also an assault against every Saudi little girl. We are asking that the aggressor receive the maximum penalty."

Several activists and numerous local media reports say that Lama was also raped, but her mother denied that happened, despite saying that the father had burned Lama's rectum. Syeda said that Lama's father also was concerned about the virginity of his 5-year-old daughter.

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"The father confessed to the abuse, the beating and torturing Lama in the most obnoxious manners," she said. "These are not some unfounded accusations, but everything is based on the medical examination by the hospital and the team of physicians who treated Lama when she was first admitted."

Syeda, who is divorced from Al-Ghamdi, says Lama's torture occurred while she was staying with her father. She added that Al-Ghamdi is now remarried with two more children and that "the state needs to even consider taking his two children from him and his wife away because I fear for their lives."

Aziza Al-Yousef, a human rights activist and lecturer at King Saud University, who is in very close contact with Lama's mother, said this case highlights the urgent need for legislation in Saudi Arabia that would better protect women and children from domestic violence.

"We need to get some laws passed to protect women and children here. It's been difficult getting these laws passed," she said. "This case is a horrifying example of the kind of violence that can be faced by children here."

Prominent Saudi women's rights activist Manal Al-Sharif, who has launched an online campaign and created a Twitter hashtag, #IAmLAMA, expressed a similar sentiment, explaining how this case reflects once again how dire the situation is for women in Saudi Arabia, who must contend with a male guardianship system that she says infantilizes women and strips them of any power.

"In Saudi Arabia," Al-Sharif told CNN, "all women are considered minors and are automatically assigned to the care and judgment of their most immediate male relative."

Al-Sharif said Saudi courts tend to "show leniency toward male abusers," and she said she is concerned that might happen in this case as well.

Lama's mother says she wants to make sure this doesn't happen to other children.

"I want to address the king and urge him to consider my case and my daughter's case," she said, "because such brutality needs to be punished in order to set a clear example for anyone who dares to abuse and harm their children."

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