Saudi Arabia beheadings soar in 2015, highest in 2 decades

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in the kingdom in two decades, according to several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide.

See Full Article

Coinciding with the rise in executions is the number of people executed for non-lethal offences that judges have wide discretion to rule on, particularly for drug-related crimes.

Rights group Amnesty International said in November that at least 63 people had been executed since the start of the year for drug-related offences. That figure made for at least 40 per cent of the total number of executions in 2015, compared to less than four per cent for drug-related executions in 2010. Amnesty said Saudi Arabia had exceeded its highest level of executions since 1995, when 192 executions were recorded.

But while some crimes, such as premeditated murder, may carry fixed punishments under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of the Islamic law, or Shariah, drug-related offences are considered "ta'zir", meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam.

Discretionary judgments for "ta'zir" crimes have led to arbitrary rulings with contentious outcomes.

In a lengthy report issued in August, Amnesty International noted the case of Lafi al-Shammari, a Saudi national with no previous criminal record who was executed in mid-2015 for drug trafficking. The person arrested with him and charged with the same offences received a 10-year prison sentence, despite having prior arrests related to drug trafficking.

Human Rights Watch found that of the first 100 prisoners executed in 2015, 56 had been based on judicial discretion and not for crimes for which Islamic law mandates a specific death penalty punishment.

Shariah scholars hold vastly different views on the application of the death penalty, particularly for cases of "ta'zir."

Delphine Lourtau, research director at Cornell Law School's Death Penalty Worldwide, adds that there are Shariah law experts "whose views are that procedural safeguards surrounding capital punishment are so stringent that they make death penalty almost virtually impossible."

She says in Saudi Arabia, defendants are not provided defence lawyers and in numerous cases of South Asians arrested for drug trafficking, they are not provided translators in court hearings. She said there are also questions "over the degree of influence the executive has on trial outcomes" when it comes to cases where Shiite activists are sentenced to death.

Emory Law professor and Shariah scholar Abdullahi An-Naim said because there is an "inherent infallibility in court systems," no judicial system can claim to enforce an immutable, infallible form of Shariah.

"There is a gap between what Islam is and what Islam is as understood by human beings," he said. "Shariah was never intended to be coercively applied by the state."

Similar to how the U.S. Constitution is seen as a living document with interpretations that have expanded over the years, more so is the Qur'an, which serves as a cornerstone of Shariah, he said. The other half to Shariah is the judgments carried out by the Prophet Muhammad. Virtually anything else becomes an interpretation of Shariah and not Shariah itself, An-Naim said.

Of Islam's four major schools of thought, the underpinning of Saudi Arabia's legal system is based on the most conservative Hanbali branch and an ideology widely known as Wahhabism.

A 2005 royal decree issued in Saudi Arabia to combat narcotics further codified the right of judges to issue execution sentences "as a discretionary penalty" against any person found guilty of smuggling, receiving, or manufacturing drugs.

HRW's Middle East researcher Adam Coolge says Saudi Arabia executed 158 people in total in 2015 compared to 90 the year before.

Catherine Higham, a caseworker for Reprieve, which works against the death penalty worldwide, says her organization documented 157 executions in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia does not release annual tallies, though it does announce individual executions in state media throughout the year.

Saudi law allows for execution in cases of murder, drug offences and rape. Though seldom carried out, the death penalty also applies to adultery, apostasy and witchcraft.

In defence of how Saudi Arabia applies Shariah, the kingdom's representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Bandar al-Aiban, said in an address in Geneva in March that capital punishment applies "only (to) those who commit heinous crimes that threaten security."

Because Saudi Arabia carries out most executions through beheading and sometimes in public, it has been compared to the extremist Islamic State group, which also carries out public beheadings and claims to be implementing Shariah.

Saudi Arabia strongly rejects this. In December, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris "it's easy to say Wahhabism equals Daesh equals terrorism, which is not true." Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the IS group.

Unlike the extrajudicial beheadings IS carries out against hostages and others, the kingdom says its judiciary process requires at least 13 judges at three levels of court to rule in favour of a death sentence before it is carried out. Saudi officials also argue executions are aimed at combating crime.

Even with the kingdom's record level of executions in 2015, Amnesty International says China, where information about the death penalty is a "state secret," is believed to execute more individuals that the rest of the world's figures combined.

Reprieve says that in Iran, more than 1,000 people were executed in 2015. Another organization called Iran Human Rights, which is based in Oslo, Norway, and closely follows executions, said at least 648 people had been executed in the first six months of 2015 in the Islamic Republic, with more than two-thirds for drug offences.

Reprieve says Pakistan has 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. Only a fraction of those executed since then have been people convicted of a terrorist attack.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Steve Bannon talks 'economic war' with China, calls white nationalists 'losers'

    World News CBC News
    The U.S. is in an economic war with China, U.S President Donald Trump's chief political strategist has said, warning Washington is losing the fight but is about to hit China hard over unfair trade practices. "We're at economic war with China," Steve Bannon told U.S. Source
  • One million South Sudan refugees now in Uganda, UN says

    World News CTV News
    KAMPALA, Uganda - The number of South Sudanese refugees sheltering in Uganda has reached 1 million, the United Nations said Thursday, a grim milestone for what has become the world's fastest-growing refugee crisis. Ugandan officials say they are overwhelmed by the flow of people fleeing South Sudan's civil war and the UN refugee agency urges the international community to donate more for humanitarian assistance. Source
  • Conservative leader's free speech pledge wouldn't apply in U of T nationalist rally case

    Canada News CBC News
    A pledge by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to yank federal funding from universities that fail to uphold free speech wouldn't apply to a decision by the University of Toronto to ban a nationalist rally from campus, his spokesman said Wednesday. Source
  • Fugitive heir's trail exposes Red Bull co-owners' offshore deals

    World News CTV News
    The Bangkok billionaire family that co-founded Red Bull, the world's leading energy drink, uses offshore companies to cloak purchases of jets and luxury properties, including the posh London home where the clan's fugitive son was last seen. Source
  • Hong Kong democracy activist braces for possible prison sentence

    World News CTV News
    HONG KONG - Young Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and two other student leaders of huge pro-democracy protests in 2014 braced for a court decision Thursday that could send them to prison. The three-judge panel is due to issue its ruling on a prosecution request for stiffer sentences following a lower court decision that let them avoid prison. Source
  • 'Our great love story': Couple talks arranged marriage

    World News CTV News
    ST. PAUL, Minn. -- David and Elizabeth Weinlick’s life together began like a reality TV show, blossomed into two decades out of a romance novel, and now seems destined to end in tragedy. David Weinlick and Elizabeth Runze were strangers when they said "I do" in front of thousands of shoppers and in the national spotlight at Minnesota’s Mall of America in June 1998. Source
  • Raspberry mousse cakes sold in multiple provinces recalled by CFIA for norovirus

    Canada News CBC News
    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is recalling a number of raspberry mousse cakes after it was discovered the desserts contained norovirus. The agency issued an expanded recallon Wednesday, specifying the products have been distributed in B.C. Source
  • South Korea looks to jumpstart diplomacy in North Korea standoff

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - In an effort to jumpstart diplomacy, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday he would consider sending a special envoy to North Korea for talks if the North stops its missile and nuclear tests. Source
  • Driver of Texas trailer indicted for 10 passengers’ deaths

    World News Toronto Sun
    SAN ANTONIO — The driver of a tractor-trailer packed with people illegally entering the United States in an alleged human smuggling operation was indicted Wednesday on charges related to the deaths of 10 people inside. James Matthew Bradley Jr. Source
  • 'They tried to kill my child to shut her up'; Woman hit, killed by car at Virginia rally mourned [Photos]

    World News Toronto Sun
    CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mourners will gather in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Wednesday to honour the woman who was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally that descended into violence last weekend. Source