Saudi Arabia: Paralysis as Punishment?

vertebral column

Public Domain image from Gray's Anatomy.

Amnesty International put out a press release yesterday urging Saudi Arabia not to paralyze a man as punishment for a crime.

The Saudi newspaper had Okaz reported that the judge in the man’s case asked several hospitals in letters whether they would be able to perform a procedure to sever the accused’s spinal cord. While one of the nation’s leading hospitals said it wouldn’t be possible “from a medical perspective” — which leaves it unclear whether they mean medical science or medical ethics –at least one other Saudi hospital said it would be possible. The court in the case continued to debate the matter.

The assault case, in the extreme north of the country, involves a 22-year-old whom the accused allegedly stabbed in the back, paralyzing him. The accused confessed in front of the police and was sentenced to 7 months in prison. But under Sharia law, which governs Saudia Arabia, the victim has a right to request other punishments that, in the court’s estimation, fit the crime. However, at least one Islamic scholar, Akbar Ahmed of Washington’s American University, implied that a harsh sentence like this might really derive more from a tribal philosophy of “an eye for an eye,” similar to the judicial cutting off of hands or feet in Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan.

Despite the government’s well-deserved reputation for violently crushing dissent, Saudi Arabia actually has a vibrant blogging culture, and many of its bloggers reportedly expressed the same kind of outrage as Amnesty.

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