Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia

Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia
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Saudi Arabia is one of the leading countries with use of the capital punishment and number of executions worldwide. In 2010, there were 26 reported executions in the country.[1]


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[2] including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy,[3] adultery,[4] witchcraft and sorcery[5] and can be carried out by beheading with a sword,[3] stoning or firing squad,[4] followed by crucifixion.[5]

The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading.[6] The last reported execution for sorcery took place in 2007 and three subsequent convictions for witchcraft did not result in execution.[6] There were no reports of stoning between 2007 and 2010,[6] but between 1981 and 1992 there were four cases of execution by stoning reported.[7]

Crucifixion of the beheaded body is sometimes ordered.[5] 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."[8]

In 2003, Muhammad Saad al-Beshi, whom the BBC described as "Saudi Arabia's leading executioner", gave a rare interview to Arab News.[3] 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."[3] 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.[3] 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.[3] "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.[3]

Capital crimes

Deera Square, central Riyadh. Known locally as "Chop-chop square", it is the location of public beheadings.[9]

Sharia background

The death penalty can be imposed under the three categories of criminal offence in Sharia:[10]

  • Hudud: fixed Quranic punishments for specific crimes.[10] Hudud crimes which can result in the death penalty include apostasy, adultery, and sodomy.[11]
  • Qisas: eye-for-an-eye retaliatory punishments.[10] Qisas crimes include murder.[10] 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.[12] There has been a growing trend of exorbitant blood-money demands, for example a sum of $11 million was reported as being recently demanded in exchange for clemency.[12]
  • Tazir: a general category, including crimes defined by national regulations some of which can be punished by death, such as drug trafficking.[10]

A conviction requires proof in one of three ways.[13] The first is an uncoerced confession.[13] Alternatively, the testimony of two male witnesses can convict,[13] unless it is a hudud crime, in which case a confession is also required.[13] Lastly, an affirmation or denial by oath can be required.[13] Giving an oath is taken particularly seriously in a religious society such as Saudi Arabia's,[13] and a refusal to take an oath will be taken as an admission of guilt resulting in conviction.[14]

List of crimes

Saudi law allows the death penalty for many crimes. For example:


  1. ^ "2010 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia". U.S. State Department. 8 April 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  2. ^ "Saudi system condemned". The Guardian. 9 August 2003. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Saudi executioner tells all". BBC News. 5 June 2003. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Federal Research Division (2004). Saudi Arabia A Country Study. p. 304. ISBN 9781419146213. 
  5. ^ a b c Miethe, Terance D.; Lu, Hong (2004). Punishment: a comparative historical perspective. p. 63. ISBN 9780521605168. 
  6. ^ a b c U.S. State Department Annual Human Rights Reports for Saudi Arabia 2007-2010: "2010 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia". U.S. State Department. 8 April 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2011. ; "2009 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia". U.S. State Department. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2011. ; "2008 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia". U.S. State Department. 25 February 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2011. ; "2007 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia". U.S. State Department. 11 March 2008. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  7. ^ Vogel, Frank E. (1999). Islamic law and legal system: studies of Saudi Arabia. p. 246. ISBN 9789004110625. 
  8. ^ "Death, crucifixion, for jewelry gang". The Saudi Gazette. 5 Aug 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  9. ^ "Saudi Justice?". CBS News. 5 December 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Otto, Jan Michiel (2010). Sharia Incorporated: A Comparative Overview of the Legal Systems of Twelve Muslim Countries in Past and Present. p. 166. ISBN 9789087280574. 
  11. ^ Dammer,, Harry R.; Albanese, Jay S. (2010). Comparative Criminal Justice Systems. p. 56. ISBN 9780495809890. 
  12. ^ a b "Saudis Face Soaring Blood-Money Sums". The Washington Post. 27 July 2008. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f Kritzer, Herbert M. (2002). Legal Systems of the World: A Political, Social, and Cultural Encyclopedia. p. 1415. ISBN 9781576072318. 
  14. ^ Beling, Willard A. (1980). King Faisal and the modernisation of Saudi Arabia. p. 117. ISBN 0709901372. 

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