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Saudi Arabia urged not to paralyze man as retribution punishment

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amnesty International asks Saudi court not to carry out the retribution
  • The organization says such a punishment would amount to "nothing less than torture"
  • The victim was paralyzed after being stabbed in the back

(CNN) -- Amnesty International on Friday urged Saudi Arabian authorities not to paralyze a man as punishment for his having paralyzed someone else, allegedly during a fight.

The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that the judge in the case had sent letters to several hospitals in Saudi Arabia asking if they could sever a man's spinal cord, as the man he allegedly stabbed had requested and, under sharia law, was his right to seek.

But such a punishment would amount "to nothing less than torture," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, acting director of the organization's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "While those guilty of a crime should be held accountable, intentionally paralyzing a man in this way would constitute torture, and be a breach of its international human rights obligations."

The paralyzed man, 22-year-old Abdul-Aziz al-Mitairy, told Okaz that the accused stabbed him in the back with a large knife during a fight more than two years ago. "The accused confessed to the crime in front of police, resulting in a general sentence of seven months," he told the newspaper.

During that time, the court in the northwest province of Tabuk debated how to carry out the surgery the paralyzed man was seeking as punishment for his alleged attacker, news reports said.

Riyadh's King Faisal Specialist Hospital, one of the kingdom's leading hospitals, responded that, from a medical perspective, it would not be possible for them to cause the injury by performing such surgery, Okaz reported.

But apparently at least one hospital said it would be possible. "According to one report, one hospital said it would be possible to medically administer the injury at the same place on the spinal cord as the damage the man is alleged to have caused his victim using a cleaver, during a fight more than two years ago, causing similar paralysis," Amnesty said in a news release.

It is up to the court to decide whether to impose the paralysis punishment or sentence the man to imprisonment, financial compensation, or flogging, it said.

The alleged attacker, who has not been identified publicly, "was convicted and sentenced following a trial where he was said to have had no legal assistance," Amnesty added.

Video: Judge sentences man to paralysis
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International human rights law would consider such a sentence to be a violation of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and to break the U.N. Convention Against Torture to which Saudi Arabia is a party, Amnesty said. It would also violate the principles of medical ethics adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, it said.

Other sentences of retribution in the kingdom have included eye-gouging, tooth extraction, and death in cases involving murder, it said.

International organizations are not the only ones to protest. Outrage has been expressed by bloggers in Saudi Arabia over the sentence, which underscores the societal struggle in Saudi Arabia between hardliners, who hew to tribal justice, and progressives, who consider such verdicts to be draconian and bad for the country's international image.

The fact that newspapers and bloggers are questioning decisions by courts -- institutions traditionally considered above reproach -- is a relatively recent phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, where other such sentences have captured international attention.

"This case in Saudi Arabia is not the only case of its kind," said Akbar Ahmed, a former commissioner of justice in Pakistan who is chairman of the department of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington. "We see many cases like this -- stoning or beheading or cutting off hands or feet in Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, which are very tribal."

Under Islamic law, compassion is an important virtue for any judge, Ahmed said. "However harsh the punishment would be in tribal law, an eye for an eye, the compassion element that must be exercised by the judge overrides it, and I'm afraid we don't see much of that in cases like this where, very often, the victim becomes twice punished," he added.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom and Amir Ahmed contributed to this story.

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