When will the barbarity of beheading end in Saudi Arabia?

Published: October 17, 2014

There are approximately 4,000 Pakistanis languishing in Saudi prisons, facing trial. PHOTO: STOCK IMAGE

Savagery and barbarity still exists in the present era of enlightenment; where the days of ignorance of Arabia and the dark ages of Europe and the Roman era still lurk in the shadows of today. It is when a state sponsored beheading rears its ugly head that we are reminded of the remnants of brutality seen during the dark ages gone by, that we seem to have adopted today.

In 2011, at least 82 executions were carried out in Saudi Arabia; more than triple the figure of at least 27 executions in 2010. In 2012, a similar number of people were executed. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed their concern last month over a surge in executions, which saw 19 people being beheaded between August 4th and 20th alone. The HRW stated that eight of those executed had been convicted for non-violent offences such as drug trafficking and “sorcery”, and described the use of the death penalty in their cases as “particularly egregious”. Rape, murder, apostasy, drug smuggling, sorcery, witchcraft, armed robbery are all punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

A prime example of the flawed Saudi criminal justice system is the case of Abdullah Fandi al-Shammari who was found guilty of manslaughter in 1988 for an alleged killing that took place in 1983. He was released after paying compensation to the family but in 1990 the case was sent to court for a retrial by the Supreme Court. He was rearrested and tried for the same crime but on murder charges. He spent 30 years on death row and was executed last year. Shammari had no access to the file or to any legal assistance, and was not able to appeal against the sentence before it was confirmed by the court of cassation.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said,

“This case has thrown the country’s flawed justice system into especially sharp relief, highlighting the serious lack of transparency, patently unfair trials, and fatal results.”

Similarly, a Sri Lankan domestic worker, Rizana Nafeek, was beheaded for allegedly killing a baby in her care. She was only 17 at the time of her execution. This is against the jus cogens principle of international law and in contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Saudi Arabia is a party to. The CRC prohibits the execution of those less than 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the alleged offence for which they are convicted. Hence, it would not be an exaggeration to say that there is lack of transparency, and no legal standards of prosecution are met, even for cases involving punishments as severe as death. The convicted may be denied legal assistance and despite spending a large proportion of the sentence in prison, they may still be executed.

Christof Heyns, the UN special reporter on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said,

“Despite several calls by human rights bodies, Saudi Arabia continues to execute individuals with appalling regularity and in flagrant disregard of international law standards. The trials are by all accounts grossly unfair. Defendants are often not allowed a lawyer and death sentences were imposed following confessions obtained under torture. The method of execution then aggravates a situation that is already totally unacceptable.”

Two days ago, another Pakistani, named Mohammad Yunus Mohammed Shoaib was executed in the Eastern province of Qatif for hiding heroin in his gut and smuggling it into Saudi Arabia.

His decapitation takes the number of people executed by sword in the conservative Gulf nation to 57 this year, compared to 79 people in all of 2013.

Earlier this year, two Pakistanis, Abrar Hussein Nizar Hussein and Zahid Khan Barkat, were executed after being convicted for drug smuggling. The former was executed in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and the latter in Qatif.

There are approximately 4,000 Pakistanis languishing in Saudi prisons, facing trial. It is highly ignominious that no legal or consular access is provided to the detainees and the incumbent government is taking little responsibility to ensure that its citizens are provided with legal and humanitarian assistance. Regardless of whatever crime they may have committed, each individual has a right to a fair trial and no one can be deprived of the basic, inalienable human right. There are many who would indulge in the unnecessary debate of whether death penalty should be abolished for such crimes or not, while totally ignoring the fact that no matter how guilty a person may be, he or she cannot be deprived of the right to a fair trial and due process of law.

The law, as it stands in Saudi Arabia, is the strictest interpretation of Shariah, and though some may argue that it has effectively controlled crime, one wonders about the fair trial guarantees. As William Blackstone propounds,

“The law holds that it is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”

This is a globally accepted legal maxim. And therefore, it is the duty of the Pakistani government and the consulate in Saudi Arabia to ensure that the detainees are accorded due protection of law, especially those who are waiting on death row. It must be guaranteed that women and children be detained only as a means of last resort and not in a prison like environment which can be injurious to their mental and physical wellbeing.

The reality of human rights abuses within the Saudi criminal justice system is no secret and hence no stone must be left unturned to ensure protection of fundamental human rights of the detainees and those who are innocent to be freed. The governments of India and Bangladesh have managed to get many detainees free but no serious efforts are being made by the Pakistani government in this regard. The human rights organisations and civil society are also unmoved by the beheadings of their fellow countrymen.

It is about time that this nation wakes from slumber and strives to protect fundamental human rights of the citizens of Pakistan, both within and outside the country. Who knows who may fall prey to this injustice one day, without even being given a fair trial. Hence, it is the duty of not only the government but of every citizen of the country to stand united against this gross, flagrant and mass violation of fundamental human rights.

Ayesha Siddique Khan

Ayesha Siddique Khan

A barrister at law from Lincoln's Inn London and has LLM in International Protection of Human Rights Law from University of London.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • inti

    Technologically Saudi Arabia dwells in the 21st century, but their mindset is still stuck in the Middle Ages. How is one supposed to defend himself against accusations of sorcery or witchcraft? How do you defend yourself against superstition?Recommend

  • None

    Start beheading the criminals in Pakistan and see the drop in crime rate, that is the way to treat butchers that kill fellow human! And it is IslamicRecommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    You should have compared the crime rate of SA with the one where you got your degree from and then you would have realized that how these punishments save the life, wealth and dignity of common people.I wish and pray for these laws to be implemented in Pakistan so that we can build a society fit for poor folk.Recommend

  • ab1990

    Any country in the world which doesnt have death penaltly for criminals is responsible for increasing trash in the world.Recommend

  • Abu Bakar

    Thank you for a very good article. There should be many more articles like this.Recommend

  • Jon

    I can’t believe the other posts here recommending beheadings in order to lower crime rates. It is barbaric and evil and has no place in today’s society and world that we live in.Recommend

  • Reddy

    Dude, how would you feel if one of your family member is beheaded in public for a crime which was a total setup?Recommend

  • M Imran

    Extreme disagreement with this article, Justice must rule in our society as per shariah law. Shariah law is not to kill humans for nothing but to punish the culprit so that people take lesson from this. Even in USA some states have death penalties.Recommend

  • Carl

    You are right, this is the only way to control crime in the backward muslim nations.Recommend

  • Hozur

    As the torch bearer of Islam and with the holy sites within its borders it needs to uphold the religious edicts . it is difficult to abolish beheading barbaric or otherwise!Recommend

  • Parvez

    The suggestion of scrapping the death penalty on humanitarian ground or whatever…..is a sound suggestion but gets confused with the real issue of ensuring that justice is done and seen to be done in countries like KSA and Pakistan. My view is that the second part is far, far more important than just abolishing the death penalty.Recommend

  • Nomad1412

    Some 11 years ago, my uncle a Christian who was working in Saudi Arabia chanced across a clamoring crowd on his walk back from work to his accommodation. Being an Indian, he thought it must be something novel and interesting based on his experience with crowds here. Pushing his way to the front, he was shocked to come across two people who were beheaded right in front of his eyes.

    Traumatized by his experience, he somehow took the earliest flight that he could find back home. He left all his dreams of earning a fortune in Saudi Arabia. A couple of years later his wife, my aunt, was afflicted with cancer and he had no money to treat her for radiation and chemotherapy. I sent some money from the US, but it was too late. She spoke to me on the phone, told me everything was OK and she wanted to meet me the next time I visited Bombay, but she died the very next day.Recommend

  • Armaan

    why do you have to take drugs or kill people at first place.. secondly your so called human rights doesnt see what Israel is doing to Gaza ?. and thirdly instead of reading some fiction story books read the Holy Qur’an so that you understand abit of real human rights.. not your london university human rights…Recommend

  • Shaban Malik

    How is it barbaric? Capital punishment is allowed in Islam. Are you, Ayesha, saying Islam is barbaric?Recommend

  • Critical

    *Technologically Saudi Arabia dwells in the 21st century*

    Really,tell me the greatest inventions made by Saudi Arabia in the past 100 years???

    FYI,Digging oil from the ground,selling it and then buying Western goods and using Asian labor to build skyscrapers doesnt make u civilised….

    The only difference in Saudi is that the camel jockeys are driving Ferraris…They might have progressed a lot in the initial days of Islamic Golden age but nowadays they are travelling reverse in time towards stone ageRecommend

  • Asad Khan

    Dear Blogger,

    Did you know that I right now can get drunk and attend a bar/club in Copenhagen and kill somebody during a fight and then I can escape with 5-8 years of prison? Most often than not much less because it was done while intoxicated. Such laws are pathetic.

    In Denmark a drunk man killed a family of 4 in a traffic accident. He received 6 months in prison and got his license suspended for 5 years. Is this justice? And they call themselves civilized? It’s a joke.

    But there are no protests when their soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. killed innocent Muslims in the hundreds and thousands. Women, children, elders etc.

    So indeed the world is not a fair place and never was.

    USA that uses gas chambers, electric chairs and lethal injections as a method of execution (sometimes such executions can last 20 minutes, google yourself!!!!) criticize KSA for using beheading (must humane, quick, swift and cheap method) and hangings in prisons.

    I hope sense prevails,


  • observer

    Do you oppose the punishment prescribed in Sharia laws that are based on the scriptures and teachings of Islam? Aren’t you committing blasphemy? The problem is you can’t just choose which Islamic teaching you would obey. Stoning to death and beheading are ordered as punishments in the scriptures.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I quite agree with you. the minute we start hacking off rapists, murderers and drug dealers we will see a steep decline in crime rate. Although many political parties have influence thanks to their gangsters so I am not sure if “namaloom afrad party”, “baby leader party” and others will allow this to happen.Recommend

  • South_Asian

    Believe it or not, KSA sees Pakistan as its servant and they know Pakistan will be dependent on them for long time…but when it comes to countries like Turkey, Bangladesh or Malaysia…Saudi Govt knows that they cant do shit when it comes to these countries.. due to the fact that Bangladesh, turkey have way more influence and power and their economies will takeover Saudis by end of this decade…My advice to Pakistan is stop being a Saudi puppet, and get help from Emerging Muslim Countries…Recommend

  • sundas

    Start giving education to people and see the drop in crime rate!Recommend

  • Asad Salahuddin

    In criminology, rational choice theory and social learning theory has gained comparative precedence because these asserts the benefits and costs analysis, the culprits explicate before resorting to criminal act.
    In our country people like Raymond Davis flees away without getting indict just because of our weak Criminal Justice System ! I swear to God, if we introduce stringent and harsh laws against murder, rape and corruption, Pakistan could become one of the heavensRecommend

  • raw is war

    They are the worst around the world. The death penalty serves no purpose. It never corrected them. In fact it makes them worse humans.Recommend

  • Samar

    lol.. you know what all the gangs and criminal ppl are actually handled by literate and educated ppl for you information :)Recommend

  • ishrat salim

    There are more than 8000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan. Pakistan govt has put moratorium on death penalty under pressure from EU & rights group. Has that decreased crime in Pakistan ? had death penalty carried out as per law & judgment, it could have acted as a deterrence.Recommend

  • izzy

    I am amazed to see so many comments are against the article!

    What I understand from the article is that every one has the RIGHT for a fair trial, and since there is not much transparency in the trial system, you might behead an innocent person.

    ” Who knows who may fall prey to this injustice one day, without even being given a fair trial.”

    The writer never clearly said that beheading should be stopped, although the title is little misleading though.Recommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    Dear,how would you feel if one of your family member is killed by some wadera’s son and a month later a court rules him innocent and he come’s out and makes a victory sign like he owns this God damned system.Sadly I can go on with examples like this, because there are so many in our country. Its all about “justice for all” .And with a fair trail and use of proper technology my family member might stand a chance for justice.Recommend

  • Hmm..

    A society or civilization can be judged by how it treats it’s worst citizens.Hence a highly evolved society will refrain from lazy,short cuts like the barbarism of capital sentences. For this reason I’m 100% against the death sentence & believe that,the most brutal criminals must be subjected to life sentences/rehabilitation,etc.( KSA is following Shariah,but we being Indians are secular & have no religious compulsions to execute anyone )Recommend

  • Hmm..

    Very sorry about your Uncle’s experience & your Aunt’s demise.May she rest in peace.Hope your Uncle is coping with his loss.Time heals most wounds.Recommend

  • Hmm..

    If death sentence would solve problems,there would be zero crimes in KSA today & no one doing anything to merit execution. Hence-capital punishment isn’t a sufficient deterrent.
    I have no issue with KSA following Shariah/islamic laws.( Just that it mustn’t be viewed as a method to effectively curb crime ) Anyway,the author is more concerned with the lack of fair trials & other ills plaguing the justice system there.Recommend

  • Asifa

    Crimes can only be reduced by population control, education, delivery of rights, justice and modernization of Islamic countries.Recommend

  • Abdul Ghaffar

    Read the article ! It seems to me there are different laws for Saudis and people from third world countries.Recommend

  • Omer Masood Sadiq

    I think you need to make a distinction between the right to a fair trial, and the imposition of the death penalty, as separate.

    You seem to have mixed to two together.

    Everyone should have the right to a fair trial. You will find no arguments from anyone on that front.

    However, when it comes to the death penalty, that is a completely different argument.
    Some people advocate that the death penalty should completely be abolished. Are you presenting that point or merely pointing out it should not apply to violent offences?
    You specifically mention drug trafficking as a non-violent offence. Singapore is famous for having a very strict capital punishment policy when it comes to drug trafficking and somehow seems to evade criticism on that front.

    I think a distinction needs to be made. The fight for a fair trial has nothing to do with the argument for or against the death penalty.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    total setup? They caught him smuggling drugs. You say someone set him up? How crass is your attitude? To be honest I would like to say How Dare You! What would you do with people who are caught with enough drugs to kill a hundred innocent youngsters? shower them in roses? please be mature.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius


  • khursheed

    With theories and hypothesis that do not hold any merit. Please justice and compassion are two different. Justice Say if you do the crime you pay the price according to the law of that country. Now you may not like beheading or other punishments but that is your compassion not justice. Recommend

  • Saad

    Wrong. Crime is related to poverty and social unemployment factors. USA has one of the highest education and justice system yet their crime rates are sky high. Same goes for Europe after the euro crisisRecommend

  • Saad

    Wrong. Crime is related to poverty and social unemployment factors. USA has one of the highest education and justice system yet their crime rates are sky high. Same goes for Europe after the euro crisisRecommend

  • Saad

    So USA and European countries probably have the lowest crime rates? I think you should check againRecommend

  • Saad

    So USA and European countries probably have the lowest crime rates? I think you should check againRecommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Here’s the thing about Saudi Arabia. All the shiny cities (imagined by non-Saudi architects and built by ill-treated foreign labor) cannot hide their ugly, medieval Bedouin psyches. Western geologists discovered and businessmen exploited oil resources of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East before these countries kicked them out to control and exploit those resources themselves. Aren’t Saudis supposed to know and practice Islam as it was meant to be?Recommend

  • JZ

    If you have read the article, you might also have read the sentence:

    “Rape, murder, apostasy, drug smuggling, sorcery, witchcraft, armed robbery are all punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.”

    Don’t be selective and “cherry-picking” to strengthen your argument. Get the guts to call spade a spade.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Pakistani bloggers standing up to Iranian and Saudi Arabian injustice…who would have thought….

    Pak needs to reform its own terrible systems too…still, would like to see Pakistan grow a backbone and protect vulnerable overseas Pakistanis, particularly in the Middle East, from unfair treatment and process, which unfortunately has been allowed, costing possibly innocent lives…Recommend

  • Zohare

    All those talking of Saudi Arabia following Shariah, please ask why its Shariah is limited to beheading alleged criminals who perhaps do not even get a fair trial, and the Shariah is not applied to the lifestyle of the rulers? Also, there are as many interpretations of Shariah as there are sects in Islam. You now have ISIS applying its own version in the territories in Iraq and Syria that it controls. Do you agree with that Shariah too? Islam can only come out of the confusion it has gone into, if Muslim scholars of all major sects at least are brought onto one platform for a learned discussion and debate to decide once and for all, one Shariah for all Muslims. But this will never be allowed to happen because it will mean the end of the power of all those Muslim states and despots who can only survive if their version of Islam and of Shariah is enforcedRecommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Why stop there? Decorate the parliament walls with their severed heads! Torture convicts on live television!

    If the goal is to achieve order by terrorizing the population, then don’t let something as silly as ‘human decency’ get in your way.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Criminals don’t consider punishment before they do the crime. They do it thinking that they’ll get away with it. Recommend

  • Tu-Pac

    Abuzar, not a Pakistani and and not a Muslim, I understand where you are coming from and totally respect your sentiments and will present you my point of view, hopefully you can see why I oppose this barbaric act.

    1. Firstly, the case of wadera’s son you mentioned, trust me Saudi has their own waderas and their spoilt evil brats on whom such acts have no deterrence and despite these laws continue exploiting the lower classes as per their own whims and fancies.

    2. Secondly just as blasphemy laws have been exploited to keep the lower as well as middle class under control, these laws have been misused to put away innocents and even some brave souls who have dared challenged the status quo in Saudi.

    3. Even if this man is guilty, trust me no one is born evil. Some circumstances, be it financial or any other reason, must have forced him to go down this path. So even if we may agree on death penalty, the least you can do is put him away in a humane painless manner, so that atleast we retain our own humanity.

    Note that I may annoy you with this point of view, however have no intention to offend you with it. Peace bro.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    first of all your argument says straw-man even at a cursory glance. Also there can be never ZERO crimes in any society. Every criminalist in the entire history has agreed to this fact. therefore your point is moot.
    What we do talk about is “crime rate”. which ofc is very very low in KSA.
    Also as a counter argument I would like to ask “what do you propose as a sufficient deterrent” ? as you are of the view that even death penalty is not a sufficient deterrent.Recommend

  • Abuzar Jamil

    Dear, I respect your point of view and I am not at all offended.As I clearly mentioned its about “justice for all”.Point 1 and 2 that you mentioned are correct but these problems are due to the fault of the one’s, who impose the Shariah, not the Shariah itself.And for your 3rd point I will tell you a true story.A man committed theft in the reign of Hazrat Omar( the second Caliph) he was sentenced, that his hand should be cut off.The Caliph asked for the culprit and asked for a reason which led him to thieving.The reason was that his children were hungry and as he was jobless and failed to provide his children any food.Hearing to that the Caliph reversed the punishment and set him free.The rules of Shariah seems very strict but they are not, they always welcome common sense.They are designed for the function of peaceful society but sadly they are always misunderstood.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    It is their country and it is their laws what right have you to preach them ?
    Perhaps you should ask for Guatnamo Bay to be shut downRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I was talking about the drug smuggler in my comment. I used the word “he” and the entire comment revolves around this man. It is his execution that is under discussion. DO NOT put words in other peoples mouths. Recommend

  • Aramis

    you are absolutely rightRecommend

  • Shiraz Durrani

    ksa is kingdom Recommend

  • Naveed rasheed

    Okay, the article is about not allowed FAIR TRIAL , as mentioned not to indulge in unending debate of law, if u guy’s been in KSA u would have known that u can’t even communicate with Saudies if u don’t know Arabia.Not having a fair trial is more damaging to Islam then having a law an effective law.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    “It must be guaranteed that women and children be detained only as a means of last resort and not in a prison like environment which can be injurious to their mental and physical wellbeing”.

    Aren’t women EQUAL to men? Why this DISCRIMINATION?Recommend

  • tungi

    well the most lenient punishments are in the scandanavian countries and they have a lower crime rate than saudi arabia with the same populaiton thou! so take this harder punishment lower crime bs some whr elseRecommend

  • ayesha

    Yes I’m the writer and the title was kept by ET itself. My only contention was that there must be a due process of law with fair trial guarantees where punishment is as severe as death by “beheading”. Considering the public nature of these executions and gross violation of international law, one can reach to the conclusion that such a practice is barbaric. And I mentioned that “there would be many who will indulge in the unnecessary debate of whether death penalty should be abolished or not. But I’m glad that at least there are a few who have understood the gist and purpose of this blog. ThanksRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    well Saudi Arabia has a very low crime rate it was ranked 79th with about 23 percent crime level. While Sweden was ranked 51st with 63 percent crime level.
    I would like at to acknowledge the fact that i just picked one country from all the Nordic nations for comparison. Perhaps you have a valid source which compares the cumulative crime level of all Scandinavian countries with Saudi Arabia. Please kindly share that link with me here.Recommend

  • tungi

    well i dont need to! all you need to tell me is that if saudi is ranked 23 why are 22 countries ahead of it with lenient punishments?Recommend

  • tungi

    but just for ur information go on google and type intentional homicide rates! saudi has a higher rate than sweden! its .8 for saudia and .7 for swedenRecommend

  • Ameer Hamza

    “state sponsored beheading” are you kidding me?? Every country has their own laws and people should abide by that .. There is nothing wrong is hanging people for the crime the have committed .. Real Savagery and barbarity is shown by those so-called enlightened countries by destroying countries and killing millions of innocent people on the name of self created war on terror ..Recommend

  • Sundas Rashid

    no i never stated that education will result in the lowest crime rate in a country when compared to others. my point was that educating people (plus provision of other basic rights ofcourse) may prove to be more effective than beheading them as was proposed above.Recommend