(Reuters) - Six orphan girls aged between 12 and 18 were flogged in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of attacking the head of their orphanage, an official said on Tuesday.
The girls received 10 lashes each under the country's strict interpretation of Islamic law at a women's prison in Medina, Islam's second holiest city, in the west of the desert state.
"The order against the six orphans is a legitimate court order," Mohammed al-Awadh, the public relations manager at the Ministry of Social Affairs, told Reuters. "The ministry does not have the right to interfere in a court order."
He gave no details of the ruling but the Arabic-language newspaper Okaz said the girls had been convicted of "acts of mischief" and attacking the director of the orphanage.
The girls defended their actions, saying they were harassed by the director, Okaz reported.
International human rights groups have criticised the Saudi justice system for applying corporal punishment for petty crimes, as well as limb amputations for thieves and beheadings for murderers under its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Saudi officials say the practice is widely approved by Saudi society and is a deterrent to crime.
In January 2010 a teenage girl was sentenced to 90 lashes and two months in prison for hitting her school principal on the head with a cup when she took away her mobile phone.
Awadh said the Ministry of Social Affairs would continue to care for the six orphans after the floggings were carried out.
"What it will do is rehabilitate and take care of the girls' social wellbeing, which is part of its duties and responsibilities," he said.
(Writing by Sara Anabtawi; editing by Andrew Dobbie)
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