(UPDATE) Surgical Paralysis as Punishment? In 2013?
The BBC, one of the first to report on the story, now reports that a Saudi justice minister has “tweeted” that the judge in the case has decided to dismiss demands for the surgical paralysis of the man accused of causing paralysis of a friend.
Earlier, Princess Basmah Bint Saud, of the Saudi royal family, condemned the sentence in an interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.
She said: “Whether that be Christianity, Islam or other religions… we have misunderstood the core of humanity itself. It is all about being human…even in our punishments.”
Watch the princess here.
The following question, and “answer,” from a State Department daily press briefing (today) caught my attention:
Question: “What is the U.S. response to reports that a Saudi judge gave a court order for a prisoner to be surgically paralyzed?”
Answer: “If these reports are true, they would be incredibly disturbing. We expect the Saudi Government to respect international human rights norms. We regularly make this point as part of our bilateral dialogue.”
According to the UK Guardian, the British Foreign Office is being a little more direct. Some, including this author, will say, a little more forthright:
The reported sentencing to paralysis for a Saudi man for a crime he committed as a 14-year-old has been condemned as “grotesque” by the Foreign Office.
The punishment, which was reportedly handed down to 24-year-old Ali al-Khawahir for stabbing his friend in the back 10 years ago, should not be carried out, the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] said.
An FCO spokesman said: “We are deeply concerned by reports that a Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a man to be paralysed in retribution for causing the paralysis of a friend when he was 14 years old.
“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’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison has also condemned the proposed punishment as “utterly shocking”
“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.
“It is time the authorities in Saudi Arabia start respecting their international legal obligations and remove these terrible punishments from the law.”
This is not the first time a “paralysis as punishment” sentence has made headlines in Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, local media reported the case of a 22-year-old man who was paralyzed in a fight, saying he had subsequently requested paralysis as punishment for the man he’d fought with.
According to CNN, the Saudi Justice Ministry could not be reached for comment on the present case, “despite repeated attempts.”
In the 2010 case, CNN adds that “After the initial reports, the Saudi Ministry of Justice denied that paralysis had ever been considered as punishment in that case.”
Hopefully, this will be again be the case with this latest incident. That is the least we should expect from a country we call an ally, from a country that is a state party to UN Convention against Torture — albeit it still has not accepted the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights — and from a country that has established, at least on paper, a “National Society for Human Rights.”
I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia in the early 80s and was aware of the serious and cruel methods of physical punishment imposed by the Sharia Courts then — up to and including public beheadings — but I had hoped that today, 30 years later, “justice” would have also moved into the 21st century.