Saudi Arabia outlaws flogging as corporal punishment

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Saudi Arabia has abolished flogging as a punishment, the state human rights commission said on Saturday hailing a “major step forward” in the reform programme launched by the king and his powerful son, days after a human rights activist died in custody.

Court-ordered floggings in Saudi Arabia – sometimes extending to hundreds of lashes – have long drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

But they say the headline legal reforms overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have brought no let-up in the conservative Islamic kingdom’s crushing of dissent, including through the use of the death penalty.

Previously, the courts had powers to order the flogging of convicts found guilty of offences ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder.

In the future, judges will have to choose between handing down fines or jail sentences, or non-custodial alternatives like community service.

The abolition of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia comes just days after the kingdom’s human rights record was again in the spotlight following news of the death from a stroke in custody of leading activist Abullah al-Hamid, 69.

Other forms of capital and corporal punishment – including beheading for murder and amputations for theft – will remain in use.

While analysts will see the new decision as a further attempt by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to present the country as modernising, critics have already pointed out that the kingdom’s human rights record remains among the worst in the world.

Anti-government dissent is banned, and those who dare to criticise the country’s rulers are routinely subject to arbitrary arrest. Other freedom of expression is severely curtailed.

In 2019, some 184 people were executed – a record number for the kingdom in a year when such government-approved killings were in decline almost everywhere else in the world.

Pertinently, perhaps, shortly before the flogging decision was made public on Friday, the most prominent Saudi human rights campaigner died in jail after a stroke which fellow activists say was due to medical neglect.

“This is a welcome change but it should have happened years ago,” said Adam Coogle, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “There’s nothing now standing in the way of Saudi Arabia reforming its unfair judicial system.”

Flogging has been a sore point for Saudi officials since 2015 when worldwide attention was drawn to the fact blogger and government critic Raif Badawi had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes following his conviction on charges of cybercrime and insulting Islam.

The global revulsion led to the punishment being withdrawn. (Source: Independent UK)

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