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Saudi Arabia Table of Contents

Saudi Arabia

Crime and Punishment

The incidence of crime was considered to be relatively low in Saudi Arabia, and violent street crime was particularly unusual. Crime rates had, however, risen with the presence of foreign workers. An increase noted in the level of petty crime in 1989 was linked to unemployment among Saudis and Yemeni residents of the kingdom. The severity of penalties and the rigid system of enforcement were credited by both officials and ordinary citizens with contributing to the high standards of public safety. Supporters of severe punishment believed that, although carried out infrequently, a beheading or stoning reminded the people that such penalties remained in force. Some observers disagreed, citing cultural traits and the social forces bearing on Arabs of the peninsula as the main inhibiting factors.

According to the Statistical Yearbook published by the Ministry of Finance and National Economy, the most common crimes in 1988 were theft (7,553 cases), the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol (5,085 cases), altercations and quarreling (3,651 cases), and moral offenses (2,576 cases). There were fifty-six murders and 340 cases of attempted and threatened murder. There were twenty-nine cases of arson and 574 cases involving forgery or fraud.

Crimes subject to the death sentence included murder, apostasy from Islam, adultery, drug smuggling, and sabotage. Under certain conditions, rape and armed robbery could also lead to execution. Executions could be carried out by beheading, firing squad, or stoning of the convicted person in a drugged state. All seventeen executions carried out in 1990 were by beheading.

The sharia sets forth rigorous requirements for proof of adultery or fornication. For the crime of adultery, four witnesses to the act must swear to having witnessed the crime, and if such an accusation does not hold up in court, the witnesses are then liable to punishment. No one was executed for adultery in 1990, although during 1989 there were reliable reports of nonjudicial public stonings for adultery.

Under the sharia, repeated theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand, administered under anesthetic. Because of its severity, a number of qualifications have been introduced to mitigate the punishment. If the thief repents and makes restitution before the case is brought before a judge, the punishment can be reduced; furthermore, the victim can demand recompense rather than punishment or can grant a pardon. Highway crime was considered a crime against public safety and thus subject to more severe punishment. Aggravated theft can be punished by cross-amputation of a hand and a foot. Such cases have been unusual, but Amnesty International reported four of them in 1986. In 1990 fewer than ten hand amputations took place, at least five of which were administered to foreigners.

Flogging with a cane was often imposed for offenses against religion and public morality, such as drunkenness and gambling and the neglect of prayer requirements and fasting. Although the flogging was painful, the skin was not broken. The purpose was to degrade rather than cripple the offender and serve as a deterrent to others. United States citizens have been flogged for alcoholrelated offenses, usually receiving from thirty to 120 strokes. A Kuwaiti sentenced to prison in connection with terrorist bombings in Mecca was condemned to receive a total of 1,500 lashes over the course of his twenty-year sentence.

In 1987, based on a ruling by the ulama, drug smugglers and those who received and distributed drugs from abroad were made subject to the death sentence for bringing "corruption" into the country. First-time offenders faced prison terms, floggings, and fines, or a combination of all three punishments. Those convicted for a second time faced execution. By the end of 1987, at least nine persons had been executed for offenses that involved drug smuggling, most of them non-Saudis. According to the police, the antidrug campaign and the death penalty had by 1989 reduced addiction by 60 percent and drug use by 26 percent. By late 1991, more than 110 drug sellers had been arrested since the law was put into effect. Saudi officials claimed that the kingdom had the lowest rate of drug addiction in the world, which they attributed to the harsh punishments and the pious convictions of ordinary Saudis. Drug use was said to persist, however, among wealthy younger Saudis who acquired the habit abroad. Drug users included some members of the royal family, who took advantage of their privileged status to import narcotics.

Data as of December 1992

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Saudi Arabia Table of Contents