SAUDI Arabia’s medieval punishments are in the spotlight as the country’s investment fund looks to set to take over Newcastle United.
Public beheading, crucifixion and paralysis are all part of its ruthless and medieval justice system, which has seen record numbers executed.
Killings include a horrific mass execution involving 37 men, including one being crucified and another having his head impaled on a spike.
But the £300million footie deal will leave the Saudi Public Investment Fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, owning 80 per cent of the Magpies.
It has come under fire from human rights campaigners Amnesty International, who called for the Premier League to “overhaul their standards”.
They slammed the deal as an attempt to “sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football”.
CEO Sacha Deshmukh said: “Instead of allowing those implicated in serious human rights violations to walk into English football simply because they have deep pockets, we’ve urged the Premier League to change their owners’ and directors’ test to address human rights issues.
“The phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t even appear in the owners’ and directors’ test despite English football supposedly adhering to Fifa standards.”
Saudi Arabia executed a record 184 people in 2019, compared to 149 the year before, according to Amnesty figures.
Most of them were drug smugglers convicted of non-violent crimes.
The figure dropped to just eight in 2020 as it hosted the G20 presidency but it has ramped them up in the first half of this year.
A total of 40 were executed up to July, the latest figures from Amnesty show.
Among those currently facing beheading is Abdullah al-Howaiti, who was 14 when he was arrested on a murder charge he denies.
In 2017, the kingdom carried out 146 executions while in 2016 the country killed 47 men in one single day in a horrific mass murder.
Those killed during the beheading bloodbath had all been convicted of “terrorism offences” in the hardline kingdom.
However, one of those beheaded, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, was arrested while attending an anti-government protest when he was aged just 16.
He was convicted of being a “terrorist” in a trial branded a “farce” by Amnesty International.
Saudi has the third highest rate of executions in the world behind China and Iran, according to Amnesty.
Crown Prince Salman wants to make the desert kingdom a tech savvy 21st century nation and has introduced liberal reforms.
EYE FOR AN EYE
Yet for all his ambitions, the country still has the trappings of one caught in an altogether different era, particularly when it comes to its justice system.
Saudi Arabia retains the death penalty for a large number of offences including drug trafficking and “sorcery” as well as murder.
The majority of death sentences are carried out in public by beheading, drawing comparisons with the shocking brutality of the Islamic State.
The system is based on Sharia law, which the Saudis say is rooted in Islamic tradition and the Quran.
While they insist trials are conducted to the strictest standards of fairness, evidence has emerged from the country to suggest the opposite.
Trials are reported to have lasted a day and confessions extracted under torture.
The country has no written penal code and no code of criminal procedure and judicial procedure.
That allows courts wide powers to determine what constitutes a criminal offence and what sentences crimes deserve.
The only means of appeal is directly to the King, who decides whether the condemned lives or dies.
The list of punishments makes for grim reading.
In the first four months of 2018 alone it has carried out 86 beheadings, half of them for non-violent crimes such as drugs offences.
The surge in executions since last year saw at least 27 people executed in July alone, say Amnesty International.
Beheading remains the most common form of execution and the sentence is traditionally carried out in a public square on a Friday after prayers.
Deera Square in the centre of the capital Riyadh is known locally as “Chop Chop Square”.
The work may be grim but the country’s chief executioner appeared to take pride in his work.
After visiting the victim’s family to see if they want to forgive the prisoner, they are then taken for beheading.
“When they get to the execution square, their strength drains away,” the BBC reported Muhammad Saad al-Beshi as saying.
“Then I read the execution order, and at a signal I cut the prisoner’s head off.”.
A recent surge in rate of executions led to ads place for an eight executioners on the civil service jobs website.
A downloadable PDF application form for jobs said they fell under the term “religious functionaries” and would be at the lower end of the civil service pay scale.
In Saudi Arabia, the practice of “crucifixion” refers to the court-ordered public display of the body after execution, along with the separated head if beheaded.
In one case pictures on social media appearing to show five decapitated bodies hanging from a horizontal pole with their heads wrapped in bags.
The beheading and “crucifixion” took place in front of the University of Jizan where students were taking exams takes place in a public square to act as a deterrent.
The ability of courts to decide for themselves sentences that fit the crime has led to sentences of “qisas” or retribution.
The most high profile example was that of Ali al-Khawahir, who was 14 when he stabbed a friend in the backbone, leaving him “completely paralysed” from the waist down.
Ten years later was sentenced to be paralysed from the waist down unless he paid a million Saudi riyals to the victim.
At the time Amnesty International said the sentence was “utterly shocking” even for Saudi Arabia.
However, Mr al-Khawahir was not paralysed after his family agreed to pay his victim the one million riyals ($270,000) in compensation.
In such cases, the victim can demand the punishment be carried out, request financial compensation or grant a conditional or unconditional pardon.
Stoning remains a punishment for adultery for women in Saudi Arabia.
According to one witness, the accused are put into holes and then have rocks tipped on them from a truck.
In 2015 a married 45-year-old woman, originally from Sri Lanka, who was working as a maid in Riyadh, was sentenced to death by stoning.
Her partner, who was single and also from Sri Lanka, was given a punishment of 100 lashes after being found guilty of the same offence.
Abd ul-Latif Noushad, an Indian citizen, was sentenced to have his right eye gouged out in retribution for his role in a brawl in which a Saudi citizen was injured.
He worked at a petrol station and got into an altercation about a jump lead a customer wanted a refund for and in the ensuing struggle struck the other man on the head, hitting his eye.
A court of appeal in Riyadh has reportedly merely asked whether the Saudi man would accept monetary compensation instead, according to Human Rights Watch.
On September 16, 2004, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that a court in Tabuk ordered the right eye of Muhammad `Ayid Sulaiman al-Fadili al-Balawi to be gouged out.
The court gave him the option of paying compensation within one year and it was reported he had raised the 1.4 million riyals required.
Another Saudi newspaper, ArabNews, reported on December 6 that a court had recently sentenced an Egyptian man in to having his eye gouged.
He was accused of throwing acid in the face of another man, who subsequently lost his eyesight.
Those convicted of insulting Islam can also expect to be flogged.
In a case that has brought international condemnation, blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes as well as 10 years behind bars.
Video shows a crowd cheering as the first 50 lashes of his sentence was carried out, an ordeal which his wife Ensaf Haidar says nearly killed him.
In 2017, a man was sentenced ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism on Twitter.
The 28-year-old reportedly refused to repent, insisting what he wrote reflected his beliefs and that he had the right to express them.
Amputation is a punishment for theft, with the person convicted having their right hand removed.
The crime of “highway robbery” is punished by cross amputation which involves the removal of the right hand and left foot.
In 2011, six Bedouin tribesmen aged between 22 and 29 were sentenced to “cross amputation” for their part in robbery.
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