Woman denies affair after hearing she faces stoning

A woman charged with having an affair retracts her guilty plea after the judge warns she would be sentenced to death by stoning.

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ABU DHABI // A Saudi Arabian woman charged with having an affair retracted her guilty plea yesterday after the judge warned that under Islamic law, she would be sentenced to death by stoning. The woman, RM, was charged with adultery and justification of sin - claiming that a sin is acceptable - in a case brought by her father at Abu Dhabi's Criminal Court of First Instance. Her co-defendant, an Emirati man, SM, faces the same charges, but he was not in court.

When asked by the judge whether she had committed adultery, RM replied that she had, to looks of shock and dismay from her lawyer. The judge then asked the defendant if she was aware that the offence carried a sentence of death by stoning, and whether she wanted to reconsider her decision. "You have the right to deny," the judge said. "The Prophet urged people towards denial in these cases." The judge gave RM the opportunity to rethink her plea. He said she had until the end of the court session to decide. RM's lawyer accompanied her outside the courtroom to discuss the case, but was not present when RM and her father, listed by the court as the plaintiff, entered the judge's chambers. She retracted her earlier confession and pleaded not guilty to adultery.

RM is a divorcee, placing her under the category of "mohsana" in Islamic law, which includes married and divorced individuals. Men and women who fall into that group and commit adultery face a penalty of death by stoning under Sharia. If a defendant denies the charge, however, four reliable witnesses must testify adultery took place for the case to be proven, making it extremely difficult to obtain a conviction.

A guilty plea negates the need for additional evidence and opens the door for a death sentence. It was not disclosed whether the stoning would have taken place in the UAE or in RM's home country. A verdict will be announced next Tuesday. Under the same law, premarital sex is punishable by 100 lashes. kshaheen@thenational.ae