Saudi Arabia: Execution of Nigerian Men and Women

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Saudi Arabia: Execution of Nigerian Men and Women

Use of Beheading and Amputation in Saudi Penal System

Report excerpt

By: Amnesty International

Date: June 15, 2000

Source: Amnesty International. "Saudi Arabia: Execution of Nigerian Men and Women." London: Amnesty International, June 15, 2000. Available online at 〈〉. (accessed January 20, 2006).

About the Author: Amnesty International (AI) is a human rights watchdog organization that engages in research and activities to prevent and end human rights abuses. AI operates as an organization independent from government, politics, and religion.


During the beginning of the twentieth century, Abd al Aziz and the House of Saud forged Saudi Arabia into a unified kingdom. In a culture largely ruled by familial alliances, Abd al Aziz successfully created a state with loyalty to Al Saud. In order to create this loyalty and stability, Abd al Aziz used a code of behavior and a security force to instill respect and obedience to the law. Abd al Aziz created the modern day penal system in Saudi Arabia based upon the sharia, specifically the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. The Hanbali School is based on the teachings of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, one of the founders of Sunni Islamic Law. Hanbal was an expert on the traditions concerning the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The Hanbali judicial system is based on the traditions, sayings and life of Muhammad. This system of law outlines three types of crimes: crimes explicitly defined by the sharia, implicitly defined crimes found in the prohibitions of the sharia, and emerging more recently through governmental decrees, those crimes dealing with corporate law, taxation, immigration, and oil and gas.

For crimes that are explicitly defined by the sharia—homicide, assault, adultery, theft, and robbery—a hadd, or penalty, is also outlined. Homicide, for example, is determined by the sharia as a crime against an individual rather than the western view of crime against society. As such, the victim's family has the right to enact punishment, which can range from granting clemency to demanding diya, or compensa-tory payment, or even the victim's next of kin enacting the same bodily injury. Those accused of a crime are not afforded the same basic rights as those in western societies. In certain situations, namely cases involving death and grievous injury, the court holds the accused without bail or communication with an attorney. Although lawyers can advise the accused, criminal trials in Saudi Arabia are generally held without the benefit of council. The trials are closed and for trials involving foreign nationals, consular access is generally not allowed. A judge, considering the accounts of witnesses and the defendant's sworn testimony, determines the guilt or innocence of the accused, at which point a sentence is imposed. In the case of appeal, the Ministry of Justice examines a judge's decision, except for those sentences of death or amputation. In cases with a sentence of death or amputation, appeals are directed to a panel of five judges. The king automatically reviews the findings of this appellate court in all cases of capital punishment.


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A 1999 review by Human Rights Watch (HRW) determined that "The government of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, continued to violate a broad array of civil and political rights, allowing no criticism of the government, no political parties, nor any other potential challenges to its system of government. Arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, torture, and corporal and capital punishment remained the norm in both political and common criminal cases, with at least twenty-two executions and three judicial amputations of the hand carried out by mid-October. Human rights abuses were facilitated by the absence of an independent judiciary and the lack of public scrutiny by an elected representative body or a free press." The study also determined that women face discrimination within the penal code. For example, it takes the testimony of two women to equal the testi-mony of one man. HRW also cites that although the penal code is based on teachings of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, few laws are published. The Saudi monarchy possesses the power to "appoint and dismiss judges and to create special courts, undermining judicial independence. In addition, judges [enjoy] broad discretion in defining criminal offences and setting punishments, which [includes] severe floggings, amputations and beheadings." The report also asserts that Saudi allows for convictions based on uncorroborated confessions.

The crime rate in Saudi Arabia is relatively low and the increase in crime rates coincided with the presence of foreign workers. As a result, supporters of severe punishment, such as amputations and beheadings, attribute the low crime rate to the prevailing system.


Web sites

Human Rights Watch. "Saudi Arabia." 〈〉 (accessed January 6, 2005).

Global Security. "Hanbali Islam." 〈〉 (accessed January 6, 2005).