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11 Mar, 2013 15:43

Ax may fall on Saudi beheadings

Ax may fall on Saudi beheadings

Saudi Arabia may do away with the centuries-old practice of public beheadings due to a dearth of sword-wielding executioners necessary to carry out the task, local newspapers report.

A special inter-ministerial committee has recommended that executions be carried out by firing squad in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, saying the new method would not violate Islamic law.   

"This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages in official swordsmen or their belated arrival to execution yards in some incidents; the aim is to avoid interruption of the regularly-taken security arrangements," Egypt’s Ahram daily cites the committee as saying in a statement on Sunday.

Reformists within the kingdom have also called for lethal injections carried out in prisons to replace public decapitation.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where the death penalty is implemented by beheading in a public square. In rare cases, decapitated corpses are placed on a crucifix to serve as an additional deterrent to would-be criminals.

Rape, murder, armed robbery, drug trafficking, sodomy, practicing witchcraft and renunciation of one’s faith are all capital offenses in the ultra-conservative state, which has a legal system based on Islamic or Sharia law rather than legal codes and precedents.

On Monday, a Saudi national was beheaded after being convicted of stabbing a countryman to death. His execution brought the total number of beheadings in Saudi Arabia to 18 so far this year, AFP reports.

In 2012, 76 people were executed in the kingdom according to an AFP tally, while Human Rights Watch put that figure at 69.

The practice has always been a source of contention between Saudi Arabia and the international community.

In January, Saudi Arabia drew widespread condemnation for the beheading of a Sri Lankan maid convicted of the 2005 killing of her employer's baby.

Both the UN and EU voiced “deep dismay” over the execution of Rizana Nafeek, who was reportedly just 17 years old at the time of her arrest.

In February, Saudi Arabia lambasted international reaction to Nafeek’s death.

“[Riyadh] deplores the statements made... about the execution of a Sri Lankan maid who had plotted and killed an infant by suffocating him to death one week after she arrived in the kingdom,"
a government spokesman said.

The spokesman further said the kingdom “completely rejects any intervention in its affairs and judicial verdicts, whatever the excuse.”