Middle East

Saudi preacher jailed over daughter's death

Fayhan al-Ghamdi Image copyright Bidaya TV
Image caption Fayhan al-Ghamdi appeared on religious satellite TV channels as a preacher

A Saudi preacher accused of torturing his five-year-old daughter and beating her to death has been sentenced to eight years in prison and 600 lashes.

The case of Fayhan al-Ghamdi made headlines around the world earlier this year when it was suggested that a Saudi court might let him walk free.

Activists began a campaign named after his daughter, "I am Lama", to press the authorities to prevent that happening.

Al-Ghamdi is not recognised as a cleric by the Saudi religious establishment.

Child abuse helpline

The horrific details of the abuse that Lama al-Ghamdi suffered were revealed in medical records from the hospital where she was treated for 10 months before she died.

Her ribs were broken, a fingernail was torn off and her skull crushed. She had been beaten with a cane and electric cables. She had also suffered burns.

The abuse had happened while she was with her father, who was separated from her mother.

Image caption Lama's death triggered a Saudi Twitter campaign to criminalise violence against women and children

It was reported that al-Ghamdi had suspected his daughter of losing her virginity and had beaten her and molested her in response.

It was even suggested that he had raped her himself, although this was denied by Lama's mother.

The outrage over the case intensified earlier this year when activists suggested that he might walk free, despite having confessed to having beaten Lama.

The judge in the case suggested that one reading of Islamic law meant a father could not be held fully accountable for the death of his children.

Activists warned that it looked like he might be released if the mother accepted blood money.

The story grabbed headlines across the world.

It shone a light on child abuse in Saudi Arabia where rights activists say strict codes of family privacy and a patriarchal tradition make it a serious problem.

The Saudi authorities set up a child abuse helpline in response.

Now, a verdict has been reached in the same court and with the same judge.

One of the activists involved in the campaign, Aziz al-Yousef, told the BBC that she was disappointed that Fayhan al-Ghamdi did not receive a life sentence.

But Lama's mother had in the end accepted the offer of blood money, despite having once said she would never take it.

She said she needed it to help support her surviving children. That ruled out a life sentence.

Another campaigner who fought for a longer sentence, Manal al-Sharif, told the BBC that she did not believe the penalty was enough.

But she does feel that the I am Lama campaign - with the international pressure it brought to bear on the authorities - was instrumental in leading to the recent introduction of an unprecedented new Saudi law against domestic violence.

However, she added that she still has deep reservations over how effectively this will be enforced in practice.

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