Capital Punishment (14): in Saudi Arabia

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capital punishment

chop chop square riyadh saudi arabia

(source, “chop chop square” in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the executions take place)

From an article by Adam St Patrick in The Walrus Magazine:

A slender sword – four feet of shining steel, curved at the end – hovers high above a kneeling figure shrouded in white. Only the kneeler’s neck is exposed. Sixty or so men watch from the edge of a granite courtyard, behind a patchy line of eight soldiers in tan uniforms. The man wielding the sword looms high, almost spectral, in a flowing white dishdasha and a red-checked head cloth. He is ready to swing but then steps back. He huddles with two police and the one person who can make this stop: the victim of the crime that’s being punished.

The huddle breaks, and the executioner retakes his position, left of the condemned. He sets his right leg forward and his left leg back, as if about to stretch his left calf. Sunlight flashes on the blade as he draws it above his head. … [He] gently lowers the blade to jab at the condemned’s neck, which jerks the prisoner’s body to attention. Then the real blow: the blade is drawn high up, then swung back down. It cleaves skin, muscle, and bone with a hollow, echoing thud. A lurid crimson waterfall chases the head to the granite with the sound of a wet rag being wrung out over a stainless steel sink. The body sways forward, snaps up, and slumps off to the right.

saudi arabia execution

video still of a beheading on "chop chop square" in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

(source)

This is Saudi Arabia, one of the last places on earth where capital punishment is a public spectacle. Decapitation awaits murderers, but the death penalty also applies to many other crimes, such as armed robbery, rape, adultery, drug use and trafficking, and renouncing Islam. There’s a woman on death row now for witchcraft, and the charge is based partly on a man’s accusation that her spell made him impotent.

Saudi Arabia executed some 1,750 convicts between 1985 and 2008, yet reliable information about the practice is scarce. In Riyadh, beheadings happen at 9 a.m. any given day of the week, and there is no advance notice.

Beheadings take place in a downtown public square equipped with a drain the size of a pizza box in its centre. Expatriates call it Chop Chop Square (see image above). I showed up at 9 a.m. most days for several weeks. After arriving at the barren granite expanse for yet another morning, I’d drink tea with merchants in the bazaar next door. Popular opinion seems to allow more respect for the executioners than sympathy for those wrongfully convicted, and rumors about the mysterious swordsmen abound. He must kill, one carpet dealer told me. If he doesn’t kill for a few days, they give him a sheep to kill. The job is a coveted one, often passed from father to son. In a Lebanese TV clip now on YouTube, a Saudi executioner shows off his swords and describes his approach: If the heart is compassionate, the hand fails.

More data on capital punishment here. A philosophical post rejecting capital punishment in general is here.

21 Comments

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  9. I think they execute way more people than 1750 in 23 years , on youtube if you look at the report “saudi beheader” they say there are 6 beheaders in the country and the one being interviewed says he kills sometimes up to 6 people a day.
    It doesn’t add up to that little amount of 1750 , the truth is they do not report them and nobody knows exactly how many there are or why they are convicted precisely , no free press in SAudi Arabia , the folllowing “crimes” carry the death penalty

    Adultery , Apostasy (giving up on Islam) , Blasphemy, Fornication , Homosexuality Idolatry, Prostitution, Sedition (criticizing the royal family/government), Sexual “misconduct” , Waging War on Allah(!!!), “Witchcraft”

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  11. These incredulous reports of the reasons for these macabre acts is stifling and earth shattering; if people in the U. S. were dispatched in like manner for the ‘crimes’ described herein, three-fourths of all fifty states’ populations would diminish to a sinew. If the Saudis must do this, why not use a guillotine–revive the obsolete, locked away French machine, and apply it in a comparatively human fashion, and behind closed doors? I would be afraid to live in a country such as this, where, if you cough wrong or criticize someone for trivial things, my head would be in jeopardy..

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  14. In condemning capital punishment we are driven more by herd instinct and sentimentalism rather by soberiety and insight of cuture and societies. The only hunch is that the person has received a fair trial and his guilt has been established beyond doubt.

    • Howard john fisher says

      yes ok, you just keep right on telling yourself that.

      by the way I find it difficult to understand the logic of your argument, the majority of people I have met love the idea of capital punishment violence,revenge, animal cruelty, and take every opportunity to get out of thinking ethically rationally or soberly about anything whatsoever.

      your comment is at best absurdly the wrong way around and at worst downright antithetical to humanity and the (idea) of civilization

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