Saudi Rape Victim Pardoned

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has pardoned the victim of a gang rape, whose sentencing to 200 lashes caused an international outcry, a Saudi newspaper said Monday.

The daily al-Jazirah cited the Saudi justice minister as saying the king had the right to issue pardons if it was in the "public interest."

The minister did not confirm the pardon, reported from unidentified sources, but the newspaper is close to the religious establishment that controls the Justice Ministry.

The Saudi monarch usually issues pardons to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival, which begins Wednesday, but such announcements are published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The 19-year-old Shiite woman was abducted and raped along with a male companion by seven men last year, in a case that has drawn criticism from around the world.

Ruling according to Saudi Arabia's reading of Islamic law, a court originally sentenced the woman to 90 lashes for being alone with an unrelated man and the rapists to prison terms of up to five years. But the Supreme Judicial Council last month increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison and ordered the rapists to serve two to nine years in prison.

U.S. President George W. Bush said earlier this month that King Abdullah "knows our position loud and clear" on the case.