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Saudi Arabia - Death Penalty

Rape, murder, apostasy, sedition, sorcery, armed robbery, adultery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in Saudi Arabia [and by Daesh]. While some of these crimes, such as premeditated murder, carry fixed punishments under Saudi shariah [Islamic law], others, such as drug-related offenses, are considered "ta'zir," with neither the crime nor the punishment defined in Islam.

The imposition of capital punishment is subject to considerable judicial discretion in the courts. Defendants are able to appeal their sentences. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court must unanimously affirm.

On 23 April 2019 the Kingdom beheaded 37 of its citizens and displayed a mutilated body of one of them on a pole in its biggest mass execution in three years and first of that scale since Mohammed bin Salman became the heir apparent to the throne in June 2017. AP reported, citing Saudi dissident Ali Al-Ahmed, that at least 34 of those who were executed were members of the country's Shia minority. According to Al-Ahmed, it became the "largest execution of Shiites in the kingdom's history."

The Saudi Interior Ministry said that the men were subjected to capital punishment for their role in spreading extremist ideologies and establishing terrorist cells. Those executed, the ministry argued, were bent on fueling sectarian tension and plunging the country into chaos. Some were found guilty of killing law enforcement officers, staging attacks against security infrastructure, and assisting an enemy of the state.

A beheaded body of one of the men, reported to be a Sunni militant, was pinned to a pole and put on public display. While the Saudi government insists that all the executions were perfectly in line with the law, Amnesty International sounded the alarm over what it called a "shocking execution spree." Amnesty reported that 11 men were found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia's archrival, Iran, while 14 others were sentenced to death for "violent offences" they allegedly committed while taking part in anti-government protests against the Saudi government in 2011-2012.

Saudi Arabia carried out its largest mass execution in more than three decades on 02 January 2016, putting to death 47 people convicted of terrorism, including a prominent Shi'ite cleric. Most of those put to death were alleged Sunni militants, and some had ties to al-Qaida, according to media outlets. All but two were Saudi; one was Chadian and the other Egyptian. The cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a key figure in Shi'ite protests that erupted during the 2011 Arab Spring.

The executions were carried out in 12 cities across the country, with the executions done inside prisons and not in public. Four prisons used firing squads and the others beheading. Executions in Saudi Arabia are usually public beheadings. The decapitated bodies are occasionally left on display. Public beheadings are routine in Saudi Arabia, but crucifixion after beheadings is reserved as an exemplary punishment under sharia (Islamic) law for crimes of the utmost severity.

The executions were Saudi Arabia’s first in 2016. Rights groups said Saudi Arabia executed at least 157 people in 2015, nearly double the 90 executed in 2014. Amnesty International said the 2015 total was the largest number of executions since 1995, when 192 executions were recorded. The latest simultaneous execution of 47 people on terrorism charges was the largest number in a single day since the 1980 killings of 63 jihadist rebels who seized Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979.

In Islam, Mohammed is considered the perfect example of a Muslim, therefore, anything he did is considered worthy of emulating. Significant examples include Mohammed's killing of 500-700 Jews of the Qurayzah in Medina who were beheaded by sanction of Mohammed himself.

Others say nobody can produce anything from the Koran which says the only way to execute people is by beheading - it is an old Nejdi tribal tradition and has nothing to do with Islam. Imam Muhammad Adam El-Sheik, co-founder and chief cleric at the Dar Al Hijrah Mosque at falls Church, VA told USA Today: "Beheadings are not mentioned in the Koran at all". Yvonne Haddad, a professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University has agreed with the above Imam and added (to New York Newsday): "There is absolutely nothing in Islam that justifies cutting off a person's head."

The Koran says the only way to execute people is by beheading. Quran 8:12 which says, “When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” 47:4- "Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in battle), strike off their heads; at length; then when you have made wide Slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives: thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens."

"The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter; "[Quran 5:33]

But the four passive verbs occurring in this sentence – “slain,” “crucified,” “cut off,” and “banished,” – are in the present tense and are not to be taken as a legal injunction. Read, in the present tense, the verse reveals itself immediately as a statement of fact, a declaration of the inescapability of the retribution which “those who make war on God” bring upon themselves.

The vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America — more than 139 nations worldwide — have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice. The United States remains in company of Iraq, Iran and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment. Total people executed from 2007 to 2012 included thosands in China; Iran 1,663; Saudi Arabai 423; Iraq 256; and the United States 220.

Beginning in 2009, Amnesty International ceased to publish minimum figures for the use of the death penalty in China, where such statistics are considered to be state secrets. In 2008 China excuted 1,718 people. Pakistan executed at least 315 people in 2015, after the country lifted a moratorium on executions early last year following a December 2014 Taliban attack on a school that killed 150 people, most of them children.

By November 2015 Saudi Arabia had executed at least 151 people so far year - the most put to death in a single year since 1995. The stark rise in the number of executions had seen, on average, one person killed every two days. Most recent years had between 79 and 90 people killed by beheadings annually for crimes including nonlethal offences, such as drug-related ones. Iran executes far more people a year than Saudi Arabia, but it does not get the negative publicity Saudi Arabia has.

One of the reasons behind the surge in executions could be that the Saudi Arabian authorities want to send a strong message that the regime is stable and does not tolerate breaches of the law in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising and calls for reform in Saudi Arabia including by the country's Shia Muslim community.

Islamic law imposes the death penalty on apostates based on statements attributed to the Prophet Mohamed. The Saudie government continues to prosecute and imprison individuals for dissent, apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery, and a new 2014 law classifies blasphemy and advocating atheism as terrorism.

It appears that apostasy is understood to be more than mere conversion and the law against it is actively enforced. For instance, in 2012 Saudi authorities charged Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi writer, with apostasy based on comments he made on Twitter expressing his personal religious views. Although he initially fled the country, he was detained in Malaysia and extradited to Saudi Arabia where, after having repented, he was placed in protective custody. In another incident, Saudi authorities detained two men and charged them with apostasy for adopting the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam.

Individuals arrested for sorcery – a crime punishable by death – continued to be prosecuted. In June 2014, the Saudi Ministry of Justice announced that prosecutors had filed 191 cases of alleged sorcery between November 2013 and May 2014. In August, authorities reportedly beheaded a Saudi man, Mohammed bin Bakr al-Alawi, in the al-Jawf Province for allegedly practicing sorcery. His death sentence had been upheld by an appeals court and the Supreme Judiciary Council. In February 2014, King Abdullah pardoned a female Indonesian domestic worker, Ati Bt Abeh Inan, who had been on death row for more than 10 years following a 2003 sorcery conviction.

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested on 14 February 2012 when he was just 17, during a crackdown on anti-government protests in the Shiite province of Qatif. He was accused by the authorities of participation in illegal protests and of firearms offences, despite there being no evidence to justify the latter charge. He was sentenced to death as a child, and after two years, he was sentenced to 'death by crucifixion' on 27 May 2014.

The case against Ali appeared to be based on his familial connection to his uncle Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a 53-year old critic of the Saudi regime and a prominent religious leader in the Kingdom, who was executed on 02 January 2015.

The issue first gained international attention when British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn named the teen in a speech, urging David Cameron to intervene to stop the killing. Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia issued a statement in response to Corbyn’s speech, reported on the BBC, claiming that the lack of “respect” for Saudi Arabia would damage diplomatic relations.

In September 2015, a group of UN human rights experts issued an urgent call for Saudi Arabia to halt the execution. The experts, including the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns and Benyam Mezmur, the chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, said imposing the death penalty on someone who was a child at the time of offending and after allegations of torture was “incompatible with Saudi Arabia’s international obligations”.

The offender is first beheaded, and then the body is placed on a cross for three days so that everyone can appreciate what might happen to them. Death followed by crucifixion is the punishment in the Islamic penal code for a specific charge of attacking and targeting civilians and causing them deliberate injury or death with the intention of terrorizing them. Althoughthe practice is rare, in November 2013, five Yemenis were convicted of armed robbery and murder in the remote province of Jizan and sentenced to crucifixion. The Yemenis' beheaded bodies were dispalyed in public.

In Saudi Arabia today the condemned of both sexes are given tranquillisers and taken by police van to a public square or a car park after midday Friday prayers. Their eyes are covered and they are blindfolded. The police clear the square of traffic and a sheet of blue plastic sheet about 16 feet square is laid out on the ground. Dressed in their own clothes, barefoot, with shackled feet and hands cuffed behind their back, the prisoner is led by a police officer to the center of the sheet where they are made to kneel facing Mecca before being decapitated with a sword. The executioner swings a huge sword amid cries from onlookers of "Allahu Akbar!" Arabic for "God is great." While beheadings are public, filming them is forbidden. In January 2015, footage of a woman’s execution was leaked online, leading to the arrest of the person responsible.

According to Sa'id bin 'Abdullah bin Mabrouk al-Bishi, an experienced Saudi executioner, "...for me it is more difficult to cut off a hand than to carry out an execution, because executions are done momentarily by the sword and the person leaves this life. By contrast, severing a hand demands more courage, especially because you are cutting off the hand of someone who will remain alive afterwards, and also you have to cut it off at a specific joint and use your skill to make sure that cutting implement stays in position. As I said, it is much more difficult for me to cut off someone's hand than to execute them, both in terms of carrying out the penalty itself and in terms of my own feelings."

Saudi Arabia, which executes more criminals than any nation except China and Iran, sought to hire eight new executioners in 2015. A surge in executions had been witnessed under new King Salman’s rule. The job description published online on 19 May 2015 said no special training is required from applicants. The executioners would be required to behead condemned criminals in public as well as carry out amputations on those convicted of lesser offenses. The executioners would be considered as ‘religious functionaries’, since they would be serving religious courts and be on the lower end of the civil service pay scale.

The mortal remains of all executed foreigners, including non-Muslims, reportedly are buried at secret locations in the kingdom. This practice is one of the few exceptions to the general rule prohibiting the burial of non-Muslims in the kingdom.

In December 2011, Faisal Bin Hassan Trad, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia and its Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, “It is imperative for us not to forget the rights of victims while listening to the calls for abrogation of the provision in the law for capital punishment in the pretext of protecting the rights of the killer... We carry out death penalty only after it was endorsed and approved by at least 13 judges at three levels of judiciary – preliminary court, court of appeal and the Supreme Court." According to Trad, Kingdom applies death penalty only in the case of occurrence of grave crimes that threaten the safety and security of society as well as infringing the rights of individuals.

Beheading of the criminals with a sword or axe was a common practice by all ancient civilizations for thousands of years. Beheading was widely used in Europe, Asia and Africa (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) until the very early 20th century.

David told Goliath that he would kill him and behead him in the name of the Lord. David used his slingshot to kill Goliath and used Goliath's sword to behead him. The army of the Philistines fled in fear.

Xenophon says at the end of the second book of the Anabasis that the Greeks regarded it as a most honourable form of death. Beheading, was a military punishment among the Romans. It was with a sword that Cicero’s head was struck off by a common soldier. The beheading of John the Baptist proves that the tetrarch Herod had adopted from his suzerain the Roman mode of execution. Suetonius (Calig. c. 32) states that Caligula kept a soldier, an artist in beheading, who in his presence decapitated prisoners fetched indiscriminately for that purpose from the jails.

In early times beheading was performed with an axe, and afterwards with a sword. It is worth remarking, that, beheading was generally the capital punishment of nobles, while that of commoners is hanging. The crime of high treason is always punished with beheading. Commoners, however, were hanged before the head is cut off, and nobles also, unless the king remits that part of the punishment. In many European countries, beheading with the sword still prevailed in the late 19th Century.

Abul Hamid Siddiqi noted "Lest some of these penalties may appear barbarous to some hypersensitive Western reader, let him cast a glance on drawing and quartering: a penalty of the English criminal code maintained as late as the eighteenth century, inflicted on those found guilty of high treason against the King or government. The person committed was usually drawn on a sledge to the place of execution; there he was hung by the neck from a scaffold, being cut down and disemboweled, while still alive; his head was cut from the body and his corpse divided into four quarters .... " (vol. 3, p. 894, note 2121)

The guillotine consists of two upright posts surmounted by a cross beam, and grooved so as to guide an oblique-edged knife, the back of which is heavily weighted to make it fall swiftly and with force when the cord by which it is held aloft is let go. Some ascribe the invention of the machine to the Persians; and previous to the period when it obtained notoriety under its present name it had been in use in Scotland, England, and various parts of the Continent.

At first it was intended that decapitation should be by the sword, but oh account of a memorandum by M. Sanson, the executioner, pointing out the expense and certain other inconveniences attending that method. Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin, who was born at Saintes, May 28, 1738, and elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1789, brought forward on the 1st December of that year two propositions regarding capital punishment, the second of which was that, "in all cases of capital punishment it shall be of the same kind—that is, decapitation — and it shall be executed by means of a machine." It has often been stated that Dr Guillotine perished by the instrument which bears his name, but it is beyond question that he survived the Revolution, and died a natural death in 1814.

The privilege of execution by decapitation would no longer be confined to the nobles, and that it was desirable to render the process of execution as swift and painless as possible.

An immediate cause of the Reign of Terror was the invasion of France by several foreign armies. In 1793, powerful armies sent by Prussia, Austria, England, Holland, Spain, and others, invaded France in an attempt to crush the Revolution. The government of France under the National Convention sought to protect the Revolution against possible traitors by arresting thousands of people suspected of being enemies of the French republic. An estimated 16,500 people were beheaded by the guillotine. Thousands of others were imprisoned or murdered by agents of the government. The Reign of Terror (1793-1794) crushed most domestic opposition.

In 1795 the question was much debated as to whether or not death by the guillotine was instantaneous, and in support of the negative side the case of Charlotte Corday was adduced whose countenance, it is said, blushed as if with indignation when the executioner, holding up the head to the public gaze, struck it with his fist.

It was observed, that, at the moment of decapitation, the muscles of the face of the greater number of the heads contracted in a convulsive manner. At the very moment that the knife severed the head. from the body a general contraction of the muscles of the face was easily seen; but the horrible facial distortion which then followed was probably due more to direct excitation than to a psychical phenomenon. Two seconds after decapitation no sign of consciousness could be detected. The cheeks were still rosy, the eyes wide open, with moderately dilated pupils, the mouth firmly closed. Corneal reflexes persisted six seconds after decapitation.

One minute after death the face began to turn pale, the trunk remained flacid, the carotids continuing to throw out blood remaining in the circulatory area. At the end of four minutes the face was quite pale, the upper lids were half closed, the jaws less firmly clenched than before.

Not a trace of consciousness remains two seconds after beheading. Some claim that in some brains, a modified degree of consciousness may remain for a few minutes after decapitation. The heart contracted and dilated alternately with much force, in such a manner as to produce regular pulsations. At the end of ten minutes these motions had abated a little; but they were always incessant, and the alternate contraction and dilatation preserved their regularity.

Beheading is allowed to be the least painful mode of death, when it is properly performed. Since the brain is the source of all mental and sensitive associations, when the head is completely struck off, we would be inclined to think, that all conscious sensation would be at an end—that the relative associations of the whole nervous system would be so completely deranged as to cause complete extinction of all appreciable sensation from any impressions whatever.

If the penalty of death is to remain in the penal code, decapitation is the mode of punishment which abolishes most completely the sufferings which result from the application of the penalty. The suffering often caused by hanging through maladroitness of the executioner, suggests a change to a mode which would meet the requirements of the law without the possibility of inflicting torture.

On June 29, 2015 the US Supreme Court upheld the use of a controversial drug that had raised concerns that it didn't perform as intended -- to put an inmate into a coma-like sleep before execution. The use of midazolam for executions began after drugmakers in Europe and the United States refused to sell states the barbiturates traditionally used to leave an inmate unconscious. The April 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett was the first time Oklahoma had used midazolam. Lockett writhed, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes before prison officials tried to halt the process. He died after 43 minutes. Similar situations occurred in Arizona and Ohio when midazolam was used.