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Saudi Arabia abolishes flogging

April 25, 2020

Judges will now have to issue fines and jail sentences instead of corporal punishment. Saudi courts could previously order flogging for a range of offenses including public intoxication, extramarital sex and murder.

A person stands behind bars in a prison
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Abed

Saudi Arabia has abolished flogging as a punishment, its state-backed human rights commission said on Saturday, a move which comes as part of a wave of reforms pushed forward by the Saudi royal family. 

The commission said that the move would ensure that no more convicts were sentenced to flogging.

"This decision guarantees that convicts who would previously have been sentenced to the lash will from now on receive fines or prison terms instead," the commission's chairman, Awad al-Awad, said. 

Read more: Saudi human rights activist dies in prison

Courts could previously order flogging for offenses including extramarital sex, breach of peace, public intoxication and murder. That punishment will be replaced with fines, jail sentences, and alternatives like community service.

"This reform marks a momentous step forward in Saudi Arabia's human rights agenda, and merely one of many recent reforms in the Kingdom," Awad told Reuters.

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Without a codified system of law to accompany texts making up the sharia, or Islamic law, individual judges have the power to interpret religious texts and come up with their own sentences.  

Other strict punishments endure

However, despite a wave of reforms overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia still practices public executions, as well as other forms of corporal punishment such as amputation for theft. 

Read more: Saudi minister: 'We don't have a history of murdering our citizens'

Criticism of the Kingdom's human rights record has increased since Salman named his son Prince Mohammed the crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017. The king has implemented a number of economic and social reforms, including allowing women to drive and legalizing sports and entertainment events. 

However, the country ordered the execution of a record 184 people last year, 84 of whom were convicted of non-violent drug crimes, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Kingdom's rights record has also been widely criticized for the continued repression of dissidents and activists, and the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. 

lc/mm (AFP, Reuters)

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