(Aug. 3, 2020) On July 15, 2020, the director of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, Awwad bin Saleh, announced that the commission is planning to launch a number of initiatives to highlight the kingdom’s reforms in the field of human rights. Those reforms include abolishing flogging and capital punishment for minors as ta‘zeer penalties.
Islamic law prescribes three types of penalties: ta‘zeer, qisaas, and hadd or hudood. Ta‘zeer penalties are those imposed at the discretion of a judge on the basis of the judge’s interpretation of the Qur’an or hadeeth (sayings of Prophet Muhammad). Qisaas (retribution) penalties comprise those for murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary killing, intentional physical injury, and unintentional physical injury. Hudood penalties are those fixed in the Qur’an and hadeeth for certain crimes.
Flogging and the death penalty for qisaas and hudood crimes are still implemented because those punishments are cited in the Quran and hadeeth and cannot be replaced.
Abolition of Flogging as a Ta‘zeer Penalty
Before bin Saleh’s announcement, the General Commission for the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia on April 24, 2020, issued a decision to eliminate flogging as a ta‘zeer penalty and replace it with a term of imprisonment or a fine or both.
An article in the Saudi Gazette newspaper from May 19, 2020, reported that, in accordance with the decision of the General Commission for the Supreme Court, the minister of justice and chairman of the Supreme Judiciary Council, Sheikh Walid Al-Samaani, had issued a circular to all courts across the kingdom to implement the decision of the General Commission by replacing the punishment of flogging with a term of imprisonment or fine or both. According to the article, specialists in judicial and legal affairs welcomed the decision and considered it an important step toward the modernization and reform of the country’s judicial system. Saudi Shura Council (parliament) members Dr. Ibrahim Al-Nahhas and Faisal Al-Fadhil have endorsed the measure, as has Dr. Mufleh Al-Qahtani, the chairman of the Saudi National Society for Human Rights.
Abolition of Death Penalty for Minors
Royal Order No. 46274 of March 24, 2020, instructs the Public Prosecution to stop enforcing ta‘zeer death penalty sentences of minors and provides that such sentences be commuted to prison sentences of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility.
The royal order also requires that the Public Prosecution review all criminal cases of convicted minors to drop the penalties of those who have already served 10 years. However, the order did not address whether the death penalty would still be applied to minors for qisaas crimes.
The Saudi Human Rights Commission issued a statement on April 28, 2020, confirming that the death penalty would not be imposed on minors convicted of terrorism crimes. However, according to Human Rights Watch, it remains unclear whether the maximum prison term of 10 years for children would apply to those minors.