Saudi Arabia must prevent flogging of teenage girl

Amnesty International has urged the Saudi Arabian authorities not to carry out the public flogging of a 13-year-old girl charged with assaulting a teacher at her school.

The teenager will reportedly receive 90 lashes in front of her classmates, as well as a two-month prison sentence, following her conviction at a court in the city of Jubail on Tuesday.

“King ‘Abdullah Bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud must intervene immediately to ensure that the flogging sentence is immediately rescinded,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s interim Secretary General.

“He must also take steps to reform Saudi Arabian law and criminal procedure to ban the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, in particular floggings of children.”

The full details of the charges against the girl, as well as the nature of the alleged assault, are currently unclear. However, it appears that the alleged assault occurred after the girl was caught in school with a mobile phone equipped with a camera. Such phones had been banned at the school.

The case follows a media report in December that the Minister of Interior had ordered that the flogging sentences imposed on an elderly woman and two men for khilwa in March 2009 should be carried out. Khilwa is the offence of being caught alone in private with a member of the opposite sex who is not an immediate family member.

Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, a 75-year-old Syrian woman, and one of the men were sentenced to 40 lashes and four months’ imprisonment. The other man was sentenced to 60 lashes and six months’ imprisonment by a court in the town of al-Shamli, north of Riyadh.

 “The criminalization of khilwa is a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and to privacy as set out in international human rights standards,” said Claudio Cordone.

“The flogging sentences imposed on Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi and the two men sentenced with her should be rescinded.”

Flogging is mandatory in Saudi Arabia for a number of offences and can also be used at the discretion of judges as an alternative or in addition to other punishments.

Sentences can range from dozens to tens of thousands of lashes, and are usually carried out in instalments, at intervals ranging from two weeks to one month. The highest number of lashes imposed in a single case recorded by Amnesty International was 40,000 lashes. They were imposed in 2009 in a case of a man tried on murder charges.

The use of corporal punishments such as flogging violates the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment set out in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Saudi Arabia is a state party.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that “corporal punishment is inconsistent with the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”