Saudi Arabia has abolished flogging as a punishment, the state human rights commission said Saturday, hailing it as a “major step forward” in the reform program launched by the king and his powerful son.
Court-ordered floggings in Saudi Arabia — sometimes extending to hundreds of lashes — have long drawn condemnation from human rights groups.
But rights groups say that the headline legal reforms overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have brought no let up in the conservative Islamic kingdom’s crushing of dissent, including through the death penalty.
Other forms of corporal punishment, such as amputation for theft or beheading for murder and terrorism offenses, have not yet been outlawed, Reuters reported.
The state human rights commission said that the latest reform, which was reported by Saudi media including the pro-government Okaz newspaper, 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,” its chairman, Awad al-Awad, said.
Previously, the courts had powers to order the flogging of convicts found guilty of a range of offenses including extramarital sex, breach of the peace and murder.
In the future, judges who would have chosen flogging will have to choose between fines, jail sentences, or noncustodial alternatives like community service.
He was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought the following year.
The abolition of flogging in Saudi Arabia comes just days after the kingdom’s human rights record was again in the spotlight following news of the death from a stroke of imprisoned activist Abdullah al-Hamid, 69.
Hamid was a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association and was sentenced to 11 years in jail in March 2013, campaigners said.
He was convicted on multiple charges, including “breaking allegiance” to the Saudi ruler, “inciting disorder” and seeking to disrupt state security, Amnesty International said.
Criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has grown since King Salman named his son Prince Mohammed crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017.
The king has launched ambitious economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and sports and entertainment events to be staged in the kingdom.
However, the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and the increased repression of dissidents at home have overshadowed the prince’s pledge to modernize the economy and society.
The Saudi authorities put a record 184 people to death last year, according to figures released by Amnesty International on Tuesday.
“Saudi Arabia’s growing use of the death penalty, including as a weapon against political dissidents, is an alarming development,” the human rights group said.