Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court announced on April 25 that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. These reforms follow “unprecedented international criticism” that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder. In the future, the courts will have to choose between fines, imprisonment, or non-custodial alternatives, such as community service.
The high court decision follows years of condemnation from rights groups, especially following the high-profile flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in 2015. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison.
The decision is the latest step in a modernization of the country’s legal system. On April 26, Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree ending the death penalty for individuals convicted of crimes when they were minors. This decree could prevent six men from receiving the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, use of the death penalty declined worldwide in 2019, but Saudi Arabia remained one of the world’s top executioners.
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