Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Saudi Arabia Abolishes Flogging; Saudis Welcome End Of Archaic Laws

Saudi Arabia has abolished flogging as punishment. This ending of archaic flogging was announced by the country’s supreme court which said the “human rights advances” are part of reforms advocated by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

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The supreme court of Saudi Arabia has announced the abolition of flogging as a punishment from its kingdom. The court expressed that the latest reform was intended to “bring the kingdom into line with international human rights standards against corporal punishment”.

Reuters report quoting the Supreme Court reads that “The decision is an extension of the human rights reforms introduced under the direction of King Salman and the direct supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.”

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HRC president Dr. Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad said: “This reform (end of flogging) is a consequential move towards Saudi Arabia’s human rights agenda.

“Although these reforms improve the lives of a wide range of beneficiaries, including women, workers, youths and the elderly, they all stem from the same overarching desire to make a better life for all citizens and residents of the Kingdom.”

Instead of fogging, the punishments will resort to prison sentences or fines, a combination of both or non-custodial alternatives like community service. Flogging has been adopted by Saudi Arabia for centuries to punish countless offenders for crimes ranging from harassment, extramarital sex, public intoxication and other such offences.

The practice of flogging in Saudi Arabia came into the limelight in 2015, when Raif Badawi, a blogger who was subjected to 1,000 lashes in weekly beatings nearly died due to the brutal punishment.

Convicted of cybercrime and insulting Islam, the blogger’s punishment was put to an end, due to immense global outrage. The following year, he was also awarded the European parliament’s Sakharov human rights prize.

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The decision to abolish flogging comes a day after the news of Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid’s death broke out.

The 69-year-old activist, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) faced multiple charges including breaking allegiance” to the Saudi ruler, “inciting disorder” and seeking to disrupt state security.

Hamid was serving an 11-year prison sentence when he died in his prison cell after suffering a stroke, earlier this month.

The news was heavily criticized by Amnesty International which called upon “the Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those still imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.”

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The criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been mixed since King Salman named his son Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) as the heir to the throne in June 2017.

The biggest disaster came when in October 2018 with the murder of Washington Post journalist and a vocal critic of MBS – Jamal Khashoggi, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul raised an international furore.

However, taking steps towards ‘advancing in human rights, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is leaving no stone unturned in portraying the largely conservative country as a progressive kingdom under his reign.

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Among other changes including the lift of bans on women driving and public entertainment, the Saudi Crown Prince has made serious efforts to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil.

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in September 2019, decided to offer non-religious tourist visas for the first time to the country. The visas are currently only limited to 49 countries and are soon to be expanded.

To make tourism attractive in the ultra-conservative nation, Riyadh will also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the body-shrouding abaya robe.

For decades, Riyadh has required all restaurants to have one entrance for families and women, and another for bachelors (men). This meant that unrelated men and women could never mix up at public places.  MBS has also eliminated gender-segregated entrances to restaurants and cafeterias to a great extent.

With relatively more modern and liberal decisions, MBS aims to project a business-friendly image by easing the social restrictions in the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom.

Vipasha Kaushal, New Delhi

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