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Saudi Arabia's punishment by paralysis condemned as 'grotesque'

April 04, 2013|By Emily Alpert

Alarmed by reports that Saudi Arabia will paralyze a man as punishment for allegedly stabbing a friend who ended up paralyzed, Britain urged the kingdom Thursday to abandon the “grotesque punishment.”

The Saudi Gazette reported last week that Ali Khawahir was sentenced to be paralyzed if he could not pay 1 million riyals – roughly $270,000 – to the friend he allegedly stabbed a decade ago. Khawahir was reportedly 14 years old when he was first jailed.

Amnesty International called the eye-for-an-eye punishment “utterly shocking” and a violation of international law. “Paralyzing someone as punishment for a crime would be torture,” its Middle East and North Africa deputy director Ann Harrison said in a statement Tuesday.

The British Foreign Office echoed the human rights group. “Such practices are prohibited under international law and have no place in any society,” it wrote Thursday on its website.

The BBC called it "an unusually strong plea," noting that "British governments have struggled at times to harmonize their concerns about human rights in Saudi Arabia with the fact that the kingdom remains a key ally." The U.S. State Department did not appear to have issued any statement on the punishment as of Thursday morning.

Saudi Arabia has been excoriated by rights activists for its harsh punishments, which include amputation, flogging and the death penalty. In “retribution” cases such as this, victims can demand punishment, seek payment or pardon the convict, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights group said it was unclear whether a paralysis sentence imposed in a different case in 2010 was carried out. The Saudi Gazette reported that in August of that year, a court in the city of Tabuk rejected demands for such a punishment, saying it was “impossible to conduct such an operation.”

Supporters have started a campaign to raise the money for Khawahir to avoid suffering paralysis, the Saudi Gazette reported. “We don't have even a 10th of this sum," his mother told the Al Hayat daily, according to a translation by Reuters.

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