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Saudi rape victim's husband blames judge for punishment

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  • NEW: Husband says one of the judges at the trial was pursuing "a personal vendetta"
  • Court more than doubled woman's original sentence of 90 lashes to 200
  • Woman convicted of violating law by not having a male guardian with her
  • Husband: Saudi society is very respectful to women in general
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(CNN) -- The husband of a Saudi rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison said his wife is "a crushed human being," but blamed a judge -- not the Saudi judicial system -- for treating her as a criminal.

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Human rights groups want Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to drop charges against the rape victim.

Saudi society is respectful of women, he said, adding that he had faith his wife would get justice.

The ruling relates to an incident in March 2006 when the woman, then 18 and engaged to be married, and an unrelated man were abducted from a mall in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, by a group of seven men. She was later raped.

In October, the men were convicted and sentenced to two to nine years in prison for the assault. She was convicted of violating the kingdom's strict Islamic law by not having a male guardian with her at the mall.

"From the outset, my wife was dealt with as a guilty person who committed a crime," said her 24-year-old husband. "She was not given any chance to prove her innocence or describe how she was a victim of multiple brutal rapes."

The husband, who asked to remain unnamed, spoke to CNN senior Arab affairs editor Octavia Nasr.

His wife, who he said is "a quiet, simple person who does not bother anyone," is ill and too fragile to speak about the case, he said. As her guardian under Saudi law, he is standing up for her publicly. Video Watch the victim's husband speak out »

The attack, trial and sentencing have taken a heavy toll on his wife's already-poor health, he said.

She suffers from anemia, a blood disorder and asthma, and will have surgery next month to remove her gallbladder, he said.

"Since the attack, she's been suffering from severe depression."

The events ended her pursuit of an education past high school, he said.

"Her situation keeps changing from bad to worse," he said. "You could say she's a crushed human being."

"The court proceedings were like a spectacle at times," he said. "The criminals were allowed in the same room as my wife. They were allowed to make all kinds of offensive gestures and give her dirty and threatening looks."

Of the three judges at the trial, one of them "was mean and from the beginning dealt with my wife as guilty person who had done something wrong," he said.

"Even when he pronounced the sentence, he said to her, 'You were involved in a suspicious relationship, and you deserve 200 lashes for that,' " he said.

The judge dismissed her lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, after the two clashed in court, he said.

"The judge took things personally and was reacting to our lawyer, who's a known human rights activist," the husband said. "The judge undermined the lawyer, decreased his role and then dismissed him from the case altogether. The judge simply couldn't work with our lawyer."

The woman was originally sentenced in October 2006 to 90 lashes. But when she appealed, the court more than doubled her sentence.

The husband said the judge was pursuing "a personal vendetta."

"We were shocked when the judgment changed and her sentence was doubled," the husband said. "We were looking for pardon; instead, she got double the whipping and more jail time."

A court source told Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern daily newspaper, that the woman's sentence was increased after the woman spoke to the media about the case.

But a Saudi Justice Ministry statement said the permanent committee of the Supreme Judicial Council recommended an increased sentence for the woman after further evidence came to light against her when she appealed her original sentence.

"If this sentence is based on the law, then I would've welcomed it," the husband said. "But it is harsh, and the Saudi society I know and belong to is more sympathetic than that. I do not expect such harshness from Saudis, but rather compassion and support of the victim and her rights."

Saudi society is very respectful to women in general, he said.

The case, which has sparked media scrutiny of the Saudi legal system, has drawn a strong international reaction.

Human Rights Watch said it has called on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah "to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer."

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Under law in Saudi Arabia, women are subject to numerous restrictions, including a strict dress code, a prohibition on driving and a requirement that they get a man's permission to travel or have surgery. Women are also not allowed to testify in court unless it is about a private matter that was not observed by a man, and they are not allowed to vote.

The Saudi government recently has taken steps to better the situation of women in the kingdom, including the establishment earlier this year of special courts to handle domestic abuse cases, adoption of a new labor law and the creation of a human rights commission. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Octavia Nasr, Saad Abedine and Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

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