<i>Do</i> fear the reaper: Saudi executions

There was a sort of collective gasp in the office last week. People were circulating a news report about an influential Saudi cleric called Sheikh Habadan.

He was on Saudi TV saying women should wear a niqab (full veil) but with only one eye. Er, why? Well, women who wear an ordinary niqab might be tempted to use a lot of make-up so as to look seductive to men. One eye niqabs would stop all that, said Mr Habadan.

Now, as my contact-lenses-dependent girlfriend tells me, walking around looking at the world with just one eye would be an excellent way to ruin your eyesight in no time.

Maybe Habadan’s considered the ophthamological implications of what he’s saying (is the idea that every other day they have to switch from left-eye niqab to right-eye niqab?), but to me his disturbing worldview is mirrored in a Saudi justice system that thinks nothing of beheading scores of unfairly tried prisoners ever year (158 last year alone), including some who don’t even know they’re going to be killed until they’re brought out of their cells on the very morning of their executions.

We’ve got a new report out today on how, in contrast to the international trend toward abolition, Saudi Arabia is executing more and more prisoners (averaging two or three every single week). In particular, poor foreign migrant workers from countries in Asia and Africa are bearing the brunt. The poorer migrant workers rarely have lawyers, they’re often tortured into making “confessions” and when they get to trial they can’t even understand what’s going on because they don’t understand Arabic. They’re as good as done for. Destined for Saudi Arabia’s grim reaper.

I won’t pretend the report’s not depressing stuff. It is. The Saudi authorities don’t bother publishing official stats on their executions, but our conservative best-guess is that since 1985 there have been in excess of 1,700 killings.

The breakdown is revealing. There have been more foreign nationals executed (about 830) than locals (about 800); with 50-60 others unknown. This means that if you’re a foreigner you’re twice as likely to get executed than if you’re a local. Why? Partly, because well-connected or well-heeled Saudis can arrange “diya” or “blood money” payments with victims’ families and get off. Read more here.

Meanwhile, for a British ex-pat’s experience of surviving the cruelty of the Saudi capital justice system, you should definitely read William Sampson's excellent piece on Comment Is Free today.

Taken together, the Saudi government’s grotesque love affair with the executioner’s sword and a (ahem) blinkered Saudi religious figure telling women to go around one-eyed are depressing indicators of a country miles away from mainstream habits and values. However, longstanding American blogger Crossroads Arabia detects signs of hope in a recent announcement that human rights are to become part of the syllabus for law students in Saudi Arabia. (Hooray for education I say).

Meanwhile, The Times of India was reporting only on Sunday that two more Saudi executions had just taken place. That brings this year’s death toll to at least 74 so far. Another grim Saudi harvest.

Ok, two quick extras. First, well done to everyone who campaigned against 42 days. The measure’s not exactly dead. Just sort of zombified. Un-dead. Appropriate if you’ve seen our “Sleepwalking” film. But we’ve staved it off for now (as you know, zombies are hard to kill).

So that was 42 words on, er, 42 days. See also the neat Liberty series of 42 writers on 42 days – today Philip Pullman writing in the Guardian about how the (admittedly rather brilliant) WA Mozart was a lot more industrious than the British constabulary!

And staying with music, RIP Alton Ellis, the “Godfather of Rocksteady". “I want to thank you for all you’ve done for me….”

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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