February 29, 2024

Saudi court sentences man to be paralysed as retribution for assault

Can Saudi Arabia find a doctor willing to participate in a punishment which involves paralyzing a convicted criminal?

Even by the rigorous standards of Saudi Arabian justice, the sentence meted out to Ali al-Khawahir is gruesome. Ten years ago Mr al-Khawahir stabbed a friend in the back, paralysing him. He has been in jail since then and a judge has just decreed that he must be surgically paralysed in accordance with the Islamic law of quisas (retribution) or pay 1 million riyals (US$270,000) as compensation.

According to the English-language Saudi Gazette, the victim originally demanded 2 million riyals, but this was reduced after negotiation. However, Mr al-Khawahir’s family cannot even pay this amount and is appealing to the public for funds.

Ann Harrison, of Amnesty, said: “Paralysing someone as punishment for a crime would be torture. That such a punishment might be implemented is utterly shocking, even in a context where flogging is frequently imposed as a punishment for some offences, as happens in Saudi Arabia.” A spokesman for the British Foreign Office described the punishment as “grotesque”.

The bioethical angle here is the participation of surgeons in the punishment. According to Amnesty International, other kinds of mutilation are possible in Saudi Arabia. Theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand and “highway robbery”, by cross amputation  of the right hand and left foot. Other sentences have included eye-gouging and tooth removal. A victim is entitled to ask for the punishment to be applied or to request financial compensation or to pardon the criminal.

In 2010 a similar case of tit-for-tat paralysis was reported but not carried out. At the time, the Daily Mail reported that doctors had been consulted about whether they could perform the operation. One hospital refused on ethical grounds, one said that it was not possible, and another said that it was possible but it was unclear whether it would do it. 

Michael Cook
Creative commons
Saudi Arabia