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 2010, there were 26 reported executions in the country.
Unlike executions in most other countries that have not abolished the death penalty, Saudi Arabia performs public executions in central Riyadh, instead of privately executing criminals in prisons. It is one of the last five countries to still carry out public executions, the other four being Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Yemen.
Methods and scope
Saudi Arabia has a criminal justice system based on a hardline and literal form of Sharia law due to Islam being the official state religion.
The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, false prophecy, 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 2012. 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.
, central Riyadh. Known locally as "Chop-chop square", it is the location of public beheadings.
The Saudi judiciary can impose the death penalty according to three categories of criminal offence in Sharia law:
- 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.
Giving an oath is taken particularly seriously in a religious society such as Saudi Arabia's, and a refusal to take an oath will be taken as an admission of guilt resulting in conviction.
List of crimes
Saudi law allows the death penalty for many crimes. For example:
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 , more than 45 foreign maids were on death row awaiting execution.
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