Two Saudis who sexually harassed two Iranian teenagers have been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and four years in prison, a security official has said. The Iranians were on their way home after visiting Mecca.
A criminal court in the Saudi city of Jeddah, which is the main gateway for pilgrims headed to Mecca and Medina, passed the sentence Wednesday, according to a security official. In addition to a four-year prison term, the men are to receive 1,000 lashes.
The two men, who worked at Jeddah international airport, went on trial for sexually abusing two young Iranians in late March, before their flight to Iran. Details of the abuse were not published.
Following the incident, Iran's culture minister announced that his country had suspended pilgrimages to Muslim sanctuaries in Saudi Arabia "until the criminals are tried and punished."
In response, Saudi Arabia's interior ministry vowed that the legal system would "ensure the strictest penalties for perpetrators of these type of crimes, which are condemned by all sectors of Saudi Muslim society."
Despite the escalating rivalry between the two regional powers, some half a million Iranians make the pilgrimage to Mecca every year.
Badawi lashed for blasphemy
Punishment by lashing is enforced by several countries, including Saudi Arabia. Late last year, officials in the oil-rich state sparked international outrage when blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for "insulting islam" on his website "Free Saudi Liberals."
In addition to the corporal punishment, Badawi was sentenced to ten years in jail, a fine of $266,600 (235,000 euros) and a subsequent travel ban of another ten years. The young blogger has already received 50 lashes outside a Jeddah mosque.
The sentence was severely criticized by many governments and human rights organizations.
This weekend, the Saudi supreme court upheld the verdict against Badawi, ending the legal proceedings.
Saudis unhappy with the reactions
On Wednesday, Saudi authorities sent a letter to members of the European Parliament, expressing their "strong displeasure and disapproval in relation to some media reports" on Badawi.
The letter was sent to 130 MEPs who called on King Salman in May to release political prisoners, including Badawi.
"Saudi Arabia was among the first countries to support human rights and respect international conventions which were in accordance with Sharia," the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.
German MP Barbara Lochbihler, who was among the initiators of the plea to the Saudi monarch, said that one of the duties of the European Parliament is to urge countries to uphold human rights.
"I am surprised that we, as members of the European Parliament, are being addressed in this tone," Lochbihler told "Die Zeit." "The letter is written extremely aggressively, by diplomatic standards."
dj/bk (AFP, AP, KNA)