UPDATE: Saudi Arabia has said that the surgical paralyzation sentence will not be carried out, the BBC reported Tuesday. According to a message reportedly posted on the justice ministry’s Twitter account, the judge in the case has dismissed demands for such a sentence.
When they say an eye for an eye, they’re not kidding. A Saudi Arabian court has reportedly sentenced a young man to be paralyzed for stabbing his friend in the back — a crime he committed when he was 14 — which left the victim paralyzed from the waist down, according to the Saudi Gazette. In a statement from Amnesty International, Ali al-Khawaher, 24, has spent the last 10 years in jail waiting for a surgical operation to paralyze him — unless his family pays one million Saudi riyals ($270,000) to the victim.
Qesas, “a principle of Islamic law allowing victims analogous retribution for violent crimes,” is part of the greater Islamic sharia law–as opposed to secular law–that recently came under scrutiny during the Arab spring uprisings in 2011. “That such a punishment might be implemented is utterly shocking, even in a context where flogging is frequently imposed as a punishment for some offences, as happens in Saudi Arabia,” said Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International in a statement. In 2011, an Iranian who threw acid in a woman’s face was sentenced to be blinded, although he had his punishment postponed and then was ultimately pardoned by the victim, after Amnesty International had lobbied against the sentence as well.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Saudi Arabia follows one of the strictest interpretations of sharia. But Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates also derive their legal systems in part from sharia law. According to a 2010 Pew study, at least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whipping and cutting off the hands of those found guilty of robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion.
In practice, however, “most Muslim countries do not use traditional classical Islamic punishments, ” Ali Mazrui of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies said in an interview with Voice of America.
And at least one form of eye-for-an-eye punishment is still common in the U.S., where 33 states still have the death penalty. When it comes to executing the most people per year, the U.S. ranked in the top five in 2011 — along with China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen.