MALE (AFP) - The Maldives government urged leniency on Tuesday for a teenager who could face public flogging for having premarital sex, saying she had been traumatised by earlier repeated rapes by her stepfather.
President Mohamed Waheed's spokesman Masood Imad said the 15-year-old should be treated as a victim rather than a perpetrator of a crime.
"There is no possibility for the president to directly intervene in a court process, but our hope is that she will be treated as a victim of a horrible crime against her," Imad told AFP by telephone.
The stepfather is accused of repeatedly raping the girl and murdering a child he fathered with her. He could face up to 25 years in prison, Imad said.
While investigating the alleged rapes last year, police also found evidence that she had sex with another man, which is an offence in the Indian Ocean holiday destination, a police source told AFP.
The nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims have been practising a liberal form of Islam for centuries, but the influence of extremism in recent years has prompted the prosecution of men and women for sex outside marriage.
Imad said the teenager, whose identity was withheld, could on conviction be placed under house arrest or flogged. "It would be symbolic and not designed to inflict pain," he added.
Minors are liable for the punishment when they reach 18. The Maldives carries out flogging despite calls by the United Nations to drop the practice. In September, a Maldivian court ordered the flogging of a 16-year-old who confessed to premarital sex. Her lover was jailed for 10 years.