For years, flogging or whipping has been one of the most common forms of punishments in Saudi Arabia but now the Gulf kingdom has abolished it as a form of punishment, according to a decree from the kingdom's Supreme Court seen by media outlets on Friday, April 24.

The directive from the kingdom's General Commission for the Supreme Court says that flogging will be replaced by other popular forms of punishments such as jail time or fines, or both. "The decision is an extension of the human rights reforms introduced under the direction of King Salman and the direct supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman," the decree said.

Flogging in Saudi Arabia

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia
King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia Wikimedia Commons

Flogging as a form of punishment has been quite prevalent in the kingdom in the past and has been applied to punish a variety of crimes ranging from intoxication to adultery. The punishment is often carried out in full public view so as to set an "example" for the public to refrain from committing any crime.

Without a proper codified or penal system of law to go with the texts making up the Sharia or the Islamic law, judges in Saudi Arabia have the authority to interpret religious texts and come up with their own sentence. Rights groups have documented past instances where Saudi judges have sentenced criminals to flog for a range of offences such as public intoxication and harassment.

The recent case that bought Saudi's flogging to the world's notice

The last and most widely reported case of flogging in the kingdom was back in 2015 when a Saudi blogger named Raif Badawi was subjected to public flogging after he was convicted of cybercrime and insulting Islam.

Badawi was due to receive 1,000 lashes weekly whippings but due to the global outrage that followed after reports that he almost died while taking the punishment, put a stop to his impending sentence.

Inhuman and archaic form of punishment

The practice is deemed inhuman and archaic by many rights activist and was certainly bad for Saudi Arabia's image. Fortunately, now it looks the form of punishment will be eliminated entirely. "This reform is a momentous step forward in Saudi Arabia's human rights agenda, and merely one of many recent reforms in the Kingdom," said Awwad Alwaad, President of the kingdom's Human Rights Commission (HRC).

Other corporal punishments remain lawful

Meanwhile, other forms of corporal punishment in the kingdom, such as amputation for theft or beheading for murder and terrorism, are yet to be outlawed.

Saudi Arabia's alleged human rights exploitation

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized by human rights campaigners over the jailing of dissidents and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The kingdom is said to have one of the worst records of human rights violations in the world, according to rights organizations - with freedom of expression severely curtailed and intolerance towards critics of the kingdom's governance who are subjected to what they claim is an arbitrary arrest.

In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index annual ranking published by Reporters Without Bords, Saudi Arabia ranks 170 out of the 180 countries on the list based in the country's press freedom records. Meanwhile, International human rights organisation Amnesty recently revealed that Saudi Arabia executed a record 184 people last year in its 2019 review of the most prolific executioners in the world.