It is a country whose abysmal human rights record has consistently come under fire from activists around the world, and now Saudi Arabia has reportedly executed by firing squad seven men convicted of robbery. Typically, the country executes by beheading, but this particular case was unusual, as initially, Saudi officials planned to execute one of the men by crucifixion and forgo beheading for the firing squad all together.
The executions took place in Abha, a city in the southern region of Asir, the Saudi Press Agency said. A resident who witnessed the execution said the seven were shot dead by a firing squad, a first in the kingdom, the AP reports. Another AP report earlier in the day, however, provided a conflicting account, saying the men had in fact been beheaded. The most recent reports maintain that the men met the firing squad.
The man who was slated for the three-day-long crucifixion Sarhan al Mashayeh, was sentenced to death for his role in a 23-member-strong crime ring that robbed jewelry stores in 2004 and 2005. The other six, meanwhile, were to be executed by the newly-shariah-approved method of firing squad.
Firing squads were recently approved by a leading Saudi cleric supposedly on the grounds that it is quicker and more efficient than the traditional method of beheading. Reports indicate that the real reason, however, is that there seems to be a lack of skilled swordsmen in the kingdom. That did not seem to stop Saudi officials from executing the seven men by their typical method.
While one man may have escaped crucifixion this time, it is still a common practice in Saudi Arabia. Several people were reported crucified in the country last year, the AP reports, drawing scorn from human rights groups. In 2009, Amnesty International condemned crucifixion as "the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."
The Kingdom's penchant for the age-old and barbaric practice of crucifixion seems to fly in the face of what Sheikh Ali Al-Hakami, member of the Senior Board of Ulema, told the Saudi Gazette recently -- that death by firing squad is shariah-compliant because it is painless.
“That’s why beheading by sword is the best way to achieve the purpose of punishment in Islam because it does not cause any torture,” Al-Hakami said.
One might find the cleric's reasoning about a quick and painless death to be incongruent with the equally shariah-compliant mode of crucifixion, but, as Islamic scholar Dr. Andrew Bostom, author of the book, "Sharia versus Freedom," points out, crucifixion is completely congruent with the Quran.
Quran verse 5:33 states:
This is the recompense of those who fight against God and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off; or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement
One of the men executed, Nasser Al Qahtani, once told the AP that he was a juvenile at the time of the arrest and that he and the other men were forced to confess following torture.
Robbery is considered capital offense in Saudi Arabia and, clearly, punishable by death by various modes that now include the firing squad. And the methods indeed range from the "quick and painless," to the long and painful.