RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — An ultraconservative Muslim preacher in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes for raping and beating his five-year-old daughter to death, official media said today.
Fayhan al-Ghamdi, who often preached on television, was convicted of beating his daughter Lama with canes, burning her with electrical cables, crushing her skull and tearing off her nails. She was also raped repeatedly and died months later in a Saudi hospital.
The kingdom follows a strict interpretation of Islam under which murder, drug trafficking, rape and armed robbery are capital crimes, with execution mostly by firing squad. The case of Lama caused a public outcry and brought to light sensitive issues surrounding the ambiguity of punishment for Saudi fathers found guilty of murdering their own children.
Much less serious crimes often receive heavier punishment. Earlier this week, a Saudi court gave four young men sentences of between three to 10 years prison and 500 to 2,000 lashes for dancing naked in public in the city of Buraydah, north of Riyadh.
The Saudi official news website Sabq reported that the hard-line Muslim preacher was not given a harsher sentence because Lama’s mother accepted 1 million riyals, roughly $267,000, from her ex-husband as “blood money,” allowed in litigation under Saudi law.
The Egyptian mother, who acquired Saudi nationality through her ex-husband, was quoted in Arab Gulf-based media saying she is a poor single woman with no income. By accepting the money, she waived the right to demand retribution, or “qisas,” against al-Ghamdi for the death of their daughter. It was not immediately known if she was pressured to accept the deal.
Lama’s mother told broadcaster Al-Arabiya that al-Ghamdi took their daughter from her for a two-week visit in 2011 to his home with his second wife and other children. Months went by and he refused to allow the mother to see her daughter. The mother wears a full face veil and her name was not revealed.
Lama was then taken to a hospital, where she died in intensive care in late 2012.
“I saw her and I swear to God I didn’t recognize her,” the mother told the news channel, describing the moment she saw her daughter’s disfigured face and body in the hospital. “I felt there is no mercy among humans.”
“She was beaten from the head to the toe, all black and blue all over her body,” the mother said.
Al-Ghamdi had previously said he had been guided by God after having a temper during his adolescent years, although Lama’s mother says otherwise.
“He used to beat me for no reason and raise a knife to me,” she told popular Saudi station Rotana Khalijia, adding that al-Ghamdi also did not provide basic household necessities.
“A man who does not even give money to (feed) his own daughter is not a preacher,” she said, adding that al-Ghamdi did not practice what he preached on television, taking drugs, drinking alcohol and sometimes breaking obligatory Muslims fasts..