NEW: Sentencing is met with disgust among Saudi social media users
Fayhan al-Ghamdi is found guilty of torturing his daughter, a human-rights official says
"The girl's mother ceded her original request to sentence the father to death," the official says
The girl suffered broken ribs, a crushed skull, bruising and burns, a hospital says
A self-styled Islamist preacher accused of beating and torturing his 5-year-old daughter to death was sentenced Monday to eight years in prison and 600 lashes, and was ordered to pay “blood money” to the girl’s mother, according to an official with a government-backed human rights body.
A Saudi court in the town of Hawta found Fayhan al-Ghamdi guilty on Monday, Mohammed Almadi of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission told CNN.
“The girl’s mother ceded her original request to sentence the father to death,” explained Almadi, citing a lawyer for his group who was in the courtroom. “She has since asked for the father to pay her blood money instead, which is her right in the Saudi legal system.”
CNN was unable to reach Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry for comment.
Al-Ghamdi’s daughter, Lama, was admitted to King Saud Hospital in Riyadh in March 2012 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 last year.
The case caused international outrage once it made headlines in February.
“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 in February. “She was brutally tortured in the most shocking ways.”
Ali, who is divorced from al-Ghamdi, said Lama’s torture occurred while she was staying with her father. She added that al-Ghamdi is now remarried with two more children.
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 a cleric and is not recognized by the clerical establishment.
In a conservative country where the death penalty is common, Saudi social media users were quick to express disgust at the news.
“What kind of verdict is this?” tweeted one.
“This is not justice,” tweeted another.
Some pointed out what they called a travesty – that killing Lama garnered al-Ghamdi a punishment similar to that received by a Saudi activist, Raif Badawi, who was recently sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes. Badawi was convicted of violating the nation’s anti-cybercrime law by running an unauthorized Web forum.
“This guy, who tortured and killed his daughter, he gets eight years in jail and 600 lashes? You gotta be kidding me – it’s just a joke,” said Manal Al-Sharif, a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist.
Saudi Twitter users expressed anger by comparing al-Ghamdi’s verdict to another recent Saudi case – one in which it was reported that four Saudi men accused of dancing naked on the roof of a car and posting a video of the incident online were sentenced to as many as 2,000 lashes and up to 10 years in prison, as well as being fined thousands of dollars.
“Somebody who kills his daughter gets eight years in prison but somebody who pulls down their underwear gets 10 years in jail!” wrote one.
Attempts to reach al-Ghamdi and his lawyer via activists and government officials have been unsuccessful.
“It was a very hideous crime. If you look at the pictures of the girl in the hospital, unconscious for eight months before she passed away … Saudi society never seen anything as ugly as that,” al-Sharif said.
Several activists and numerous local media had reported that Lama was also raped, but her mother denied that happened. Ali said that Lama’s father was concerned about the virginity of his 5-year-old daughter.
“The father confessed to the abuse, the beating and torturing Lama in the most obnoxious manners,” she said last February. One thing she said he did was to burn Lama’s rectum.
“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,” she said.