By Jamie Shirreff
Saudi Institute Staff

WASHINGTON DC – The world has been shocked in the past week at the sight of the ruthless beheadings of Paul Johnson, the American employee of Lockheed-Martin in Saudi Arabia, and the South Korean contractor in Iraq, Kim Sun-Il.

A Typical Weekly Beheading In Saudi Arabia   (Photo: Saudi Insitute)

The deaths of these civilian workers have come at the hands of Saudi terrorist groups tied to Al-Qaeda. The question that remains to be asked however, is why so much attention is drawn to the beheadings carried out by militant extremists, while the brutal practice has been commonplace in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for many years?

The Saudi Wahhabi ruling family is the only government in the world that retains this medieval form of capital punishment. On any weekend one can see beheadings in person after Friday prayers. The Saudi stats broadly brandishes the sword (the usual tool of beheading) its flag and national symbol.

Commentary and condemnation is scarce in the western media, but the world of the 21st Century should denounce the practice of these brutal public executions in Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International states that last year no fewer than fifty people in the country were executed by this method. Of those sentenced to death, only nineteen were Saudi citizens, the remaining numbers being foreign nationals, including nineteen Pakistanis and six Afghans.  Crimes punishable by death include murder, drug trafficking, rape, sodomy and armed robbery. In addition, for the first time from the early 1990s, beheading was made a punishment for women. Unlike most other countries that carry the death penalty, executions in the Kingdom are usually performed before a public audience, increasing the humiliation of the convicted.

Not only is this a barbaric practice out of place in modern times, the executioners and swordsmen take great pride and prestige in their gruesome profession. Saudi Arabia is joined by many nations worldwide in exercising capital punishment, but in the 21st century the country must put an end to its custom of public executions with the sword, and allow for dignity of the victim behind closed doors using civilized methods.

While Islamic clerics condemn the murder of the seized foreigners, they are silent on the inhumane method of killing Muslims within Saudi Arabia. If the world’s press and governments cry with outrage at the murder of the kidnapped individuals, then they need also to challenge the Saudi ruler’s continued use of beheading as method of putting its citizens, to death.

Copyright 2004 The Saudi Institute