Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to paralysis for a crime he committed when he was 14.
Ali al-Khawahir, now 24, has already served 10 years in prison after a Saudi court found him guilty of stabbing a childhood friend, who was paralysed from the waist down after the attack.
Khawahir was sentenced to ‘Qisas’, or retribution, which means the victim can demand the offender suffers the same punishment as he caused. The sentencing follows Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Sharia law that takes an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ approach to many crimes.
However the system also allows offenders to buy their way out of the punishment if they can compensate the victim a stated amount. In this case the amount has been set at one million riyals (200,000 euros).
The sentencing has been condemned internationally: a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: “We urge the Saudi authorities to ensure that this grotesque punishment is not carried out. Such practices are prohibited under international law and have no place in any society.”
Amnesty International have also denounced the sentence, saying: “Paralysing someone as punishment for a crime would be torture…That such a punishment might be implemented is utterly shocking, even in a context where flogging is frequently imposed as a punishment for some offences, as happens in Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudi punishment system
In Saudi Arabia flogging is a mandatory sentence for many offences and can also be implemented at the discretion of a judge. Amputation of hands is sometimes used for the crimes of theft, while in cases of ‘highway robbery’ the punishment has been cross amputated (right hand and left foot).
In similar cases of ‘retribution’, sentences have included eye-gouging, tooth extraction, and in murder cases, execution.
According to Amnesty International, at least 17 people have been executed so far in 2013 and at least 82 people were executed in 2011. Their website reports that the death penalty has been given for a wide range of crimes, including drug offences, apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft.
If carried out, the paralysis sentence would contravene the UN Convention against Torture, which was signed by Saudi Arabia.
In the past, several British governments have struggled to balance their concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record with the fact that they are key allies and customers of British weaponry.