Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia
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Note: Italics indicate countries where capital punishment has not been used in the last ten years or that have a moratorium in effect.
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The use of capital punishment in Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia (or Islamic law) and is prominent internationally because of the wide range of crimes which can result in the death penalty and because it is usually carried out by public beheading. In 2011, the Saudi government reported 26 executions in the country. Amnesty International counted a minimum of 79 in 2013. Foreigners are not exempt, accounting for "almost half" of executions in 2013.
Unlike executions in most other countries that have not abolished the death penalty, executions of offenders are not performed privately in prisons, but publicly in central Riyadh, and have been called the "only form of public entertainment" in Saudi Arabia "apart from football matches". It is one of the last four countries to still carry out public executions.
Methods and scope
Saudi Arabia has a criminal justice system based on a hardline and literal form of Sharia law reflecting a particular state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam.
The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, false prophecy, blasphemy, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, or more rarely by firing squad, and sometimes by stoning.
The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading. The last reported execution for sorcery took place in August 2014. There were no reports of stoning between 2007 and 2010, but between 1981 and 1992 there were four cases of execution by stoning reported.
Crucifixion of the beheaded body is sometimes ordered. For example, in 2009, the Saudi Gazette reported that "An Abha court has sentenced the leader of an armed gang to death and three-day crucifixion (public displaying of the beheaded body) and six other gang members to beheading for their role in jewelry store robberies in Asir." (This practice resembles gibbeting, in which the entire body is displayed).
In 2003, Muhammad Saad al-Beshi, whom the BBC described as "Saudi Arabia's leading executioner", gave a rare interview to Arab News. He described his first execution in 1998: "The criminal was tied and blindfolded. With one stroke of the sword I severed his head. It rolled metres away...People are amazed how fast [the sword] can separate the head from the body." He also said that before an execution he visits the victim's family to seek forgiveness for the criminal, which can lead to the criminal's life being spared. Once an execution goes ahead, his only conversation with the prisoner is to tell him or her to recite the Muslim declaration of belief, the Shahada. "When they get to the execution square, their strength drains away. Then I read the execution order, and at a signal I cut the prisoner's head off," he said.
As of 2003, executions were not announced in advance and could take place any day of the week. As a consequence of this and their status as the "only form of public entertainment" in Saudi Arabia "apart from football matches", they often generate large, quickly gathering crowds. Also as of 2003, photography and video of the executions was forbidden.
- Hudud: Fixed Quranic punishments for specific crimes. Hudud crimes which can result in the death penalty include apostasy, adultery, and sodomy.
- Qisas: Eye-for-an-eye retaliatory punishments. Qisas crimes include murder. Families of someone murdered can choose between demanding the death penalty or granting clemency in return for a payment of diyya, or blood money, by the perpetrator. A trend has developed of exorbitant blood-money demands: a recent report mentions a sum of $11 million demanded in exchange for clemency.
- Tazir: A general category, including crimes defined by national regulations, some of which can be punished by death, such as drug trafficking.
A conviction requires proof in one of three ways:
- An uncoerced confession.
- The testimony of two male witnesses can result in conviction. This excludes "hudud crimes", in which case a confession is also required.
- An affirmation or denial by oath can be required.
List of crimes
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2013)|
Saudi law allows the death penalty for many crimes. For example:
- Adultery (Unmarried adulterers can be sentenced to 100 lashes, married ones can be sentenced to stoning.)
- Apostasy (Apostates are sentenced to beheading but are usually given three days to repent and return to Islam.)
- Armed robbery
- Aircraft hijacking
- Drug smuggling
- Home invasion
- Sodomy, homosexuality, or lesbianism (If a man or woman is sodomized by their own consent, then they will also be sentenced to death along with the sodomizer)
- Sexual misconduct
- Theft (fourth conviction)
- Waging war on God
In order for an individual to be convicted in a Saudi sharia court of adultery, he/she must confess to the act three times in front of the court, or four males or eight females who witnessed the sexual penetration must testify in front of the court. The burden of proof is on the accuser. The execution method for adultery for men and women is stoning. Sandra Mackey, author of The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom, stated in 1987 that in Saudi Arabia, "unlike the tribal rights of a father to put to death a daughter who has violated her chastity, death sentences under Qur'anic law [for adultery] are extremely rare." Mackey explained that "[c]harges of adultery are never made lightly. Since the penalty is so severe, women are protected from unfounded accusations of sexual misconduct." During a human rights dialog with European jurists that took place several years before 1987, a Saudi delegate acknowledged that it is difficult to have a person convicted of adultery. According to Mackey, in a 20-year period ending in 1987, one woman "is acknowledged to" have been executed by stoning for adultery.
Murder is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. If a murderer pays a family of the victim Blood money, and the family approves of the choice, the murderer will not be executed. The criminal justice system waits until the family makes a decision on whether the family of the victim will accept blood money. If the family of the victim chooses to have the murderer executed, the family has the right to execute the convicted. Sandra Mackey said "[t]he most gruesome beheadings are those carried out by the victim's relatives where, lacking the professionalism of the public executioner, the condemned is repeatedly hacked and chopped until he dies."
The use of public beheading or stoning as the methods of capital punishment and the number of executions have attracted strong international criticism. Several executions, particularly of foreign workers have sparked international outcries. In June 2011 Ruyati binti Satubi, an Indonesian maid, was beheaded for killing her employer's wife, reportedly after years of abuse. A video of the execution, posted online, drew extensive criticism. In September 2011, a Sudanese migrant worker was beheaded for sorcery, an execution which Amnesty International condemned as "appalling". In January 2013 a Sri Lankan maid named Rizana Nafeek was beheaded after she was convicted of murdering a child under her care, an occurrence which she attributed to the infant choking. The execution drew international condemnation of the government's practises, and led Sri Lanka to recall its ambassador. These are not isolated cases. According to figures by Amnesty International, in 2010 at least 27 migrant workers were executed and, as of January 2013[update], more than 45 foreign maids were on death row awaiting execution.
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