IN many respects, Saudi Arabia is one of the most advanced nations in the world.
It’s the world’s largest oil producer and its cities are glitz and glamour — thriving metropolis’ in the middle of the desert.
In other ways, the desert kingdom is far from advanced, a place where barbaric rituals still occur and where the country’s citizens are subjected to horrific punishments.
It’s hard to imagine that in Saudi Arabia this week preparations are being made to not only execute a young man but to crucify him. Literally.
The world is pleading with the Saudi government to reconsider. Advocates say what’s about to take place makes them feel physically ill.
The boy at the centre of it all — Ali Mohammed al-Nimr — says he’s done nothing wrong.
‘BARBARIC, INHUMANE, MERCILESS’
Al-Nimr was 17 when he went to an anti-government protest in the Saudi Arabian province of Qatif.
He was accused by the government of carrying a firearm, attacking security forces and even armed robbery. None of those charges could be proven but he confessed nonetheless. He didn’t have a lawyer and some say the confession was drawn from the teenager via torture.
He was demonstrating at the wrong time in the wrong place — in the middle of a violent government crackdown against detractors.
That was February, 2012. Fast forward three years and the charges have stuck, despite a recent appeal.
His sentence is due to be carried out by beheading and crucifixion, a method that involves removing the head of the prisoner and tying their headless body to a cross.
Often, the crucifixion is carried out in a public place. It sends a strong message to others: We will not stand for criticism, no matter who the person and no matter what their age.
‘HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN IN 2015?’
A Scottish politician raised al-Nimr’s case in parliament this week. She spoke eloquently and she spoke in strong opposition to a practice that has no place in our modern world.
“How in 2015 can a supposedly civilised country impose such an inhumane and merciless penalty on any of its citizens, let alone one so young?” MP Margaret Ferrier said.
“It’s an absolute outrage and I intend to write to the minister and ask for urgent action to be taken.
“Ali’s sentence is due to be barbarically carried out by crucifixion. I feel for this young man and his family. Reading Ali’s story this morning filled me with grief for his life about to be savagely and abruptly ended.”
Savagery is nothing new in Saudi Arabia, a country which between 1985 and 2013 executed more than 2000 people. In 2013, 79 people were put to death. Most of them had their heads cut off with large, sharp swords.
In January this year, a woman protested her innocence until the final moment when a sword fell across her neck. She was writhing on the hard ground in a very public place trying to escape her executioner. Not once but twice did the sword fall upon her neck, the first blow clearly not getting the job done.
Elsewhere, blogger Raif Badawi was jailed for 10 years recently after starting a website for social and political debate in Saudi Arabia. Raif will receive 50 lashings a week for a year for setting up the Saudi Arabian Liberals website.
The prosecution first called for him to be tried for apostasy (when a person abandons their religion), which carries a death sentence in Saudi Arabia. Then, in May this year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a fine of over $300,000 AUD and 1000 lashes. When he is finally released, Raif faces a 10-year travel ban which would keep him from his wife and three young children in Canada, according to Amnesty International.
A spokesman for Amnesty International told news.com.au the last time men were strapped to crosses and killed was in 2013.
“Five Yemeni men were beheaded and crucified, with pictures emerging on social media showing five decapitated bodies hanging from a horizontal pole with their heads wrapped in bags.
“The beheading and ‘crucifixion’ took place in front of the University of Jizan where students were taking exams.”
DOES SAUDI ARABIA HAVE AN AXE TO GRIND?
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr is not the only family member under the careful watch of the Saudi government.
Ali’s uncle Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was arrested in July, 2012. A self-described campaigner for human rights for minorities, the 53-year-old has a strong following online where a website and Facebook page have been set up to rally support for his defence.
His crimes, including speaking out against the government, carry the death penalty.
Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, told the International Business Times nobody should have to go through what Ali is going through.
“Ali was a vulnerable child when he was arrested and this ordeal began. His execution — based apparently on the authorities’ dislike for his uncle, and his involvement in anti-government protests — would violate international law and the most basic standards of decency. It must be stopped.”
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