Saudi courts ordered to stop flogging for ‘tazir’ crimes

Judges in the kingdom can no longer prescribe flogging as a punishment for lesser crimes.

al-monitor Cars drive past the Kingdom Centre Tower in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 30, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser.

May 19, 2020

Saudi Arabia will no longer use flogging as a punishment for certain crimes, according to a circular issued to the courts today. 

“Prison or fines or both will be some of the alternative sentences to replace flogging. Courts will hear and evaluate cases and make most sound decisions regarding each case,” the Justice Ministry said on Twitter. 

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya reported that Minister of Justice Waleed al-Samaani informed the courts that flogging could no longer be used for “tazir” offenses where the punishment is not specifically outlined in the Quran or hadith. 

It was first reported in late April that the ultraconservative kingdom would be ending “tazir flogging” in cases where judges have discretion over the punishment.  

Saudi judicial authorities have used flogging as a punishment for a range of lesser crimes, including public intoxication and harassment. In 2014, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam.”

Amnesty International has documented the flogging and torture of imprisoned Saudi activists, including Loujain Alhathloul, who fought for the right for women to drive in the kingdom.  

The move to limit flogging follows a decision from King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud last month to end the death penalty for individuals convicted of crimes committed when they were minors. Instead of executions, courts can hand out a maximum penalty of 10 years in a juvenile detention center, according to a royal decree. 

“These changes should be merely a starting point for a complete and transparent overhaul of Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time. 

Rights organizations say Saudi Arabia’s use of corporal punishment, due process violations and strict interpretation of sharia law have made it one of the world’s worst human rights violators. Still, the kingdom has taken recent steps aimed at reform and extending women's rights.

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