Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
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Pakistani couple beheaded in Saudi Arabia for smuggling heroin

Drug trafficking is an offence considered grave enough by Sharia law to warrant the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

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New Delhi: Saudi Arabia Thursday executed a Pakistani couple for “smuggling heroin”.

Fatima Ijaz and her husband Mustafa Muhammad were beheaded after “an investigation” found them guilty of drug trafficking — an offence considered grave enough by Sharia law to warrant the death penalty, according to a statement released by Saudi’s Interior Ministry on Thursday.

The case was referred to an appellate court and then the Supreme Court. Both courts “ruled in favour” of the death penalty. The apex court then “issued a royal order to enforce what was decided in law”.

The couple was executed in Dhaban prison in the province of Jeddah. This is the second execution of a Pakistani woman in Saudi, reportedly after 2014.

“The Ministry of the Interior hereby declares to the public the keenness of the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to fight against drugs of all kinds, as it causes serious harm to the individual and society, and to impose the most severe penalties on the perpetrators,” read the statement.

Also read: Insertion of the ‘P’ word delayed India-Saudi Arabia joint statement

Criticism for death penalty

The Saudi government has drawn sharp criticism for implementing death penalty for non-violent crimes, including drug trafficking.

Last year in April, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Time magazine that the government was working towards reducing the number of executions “big time”, and changing sentences from death penalty to life imprisonment wherever possible.

However, Saudi Arabia has executed 43 people this year as of 13 March 2019. Fatima and her husband are the latest to be added to this figure.

Saudi and Pakistan

Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a human rights NGO, expressed outrage at the executions, especially since Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are in the midst of a prisoner transfer agreement.

In February, the Crown Prince had ordered the release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners. But the NGO said: “Reportedly, only 250 Pakistani prisoners have returned so far, whose cases were already under consideration for repatriation. On the contrary, there has been a sharp rise in executions of Pakistani nationals following the announcement.

“Despite assurances from the prime minister and government officials, there has been little systematic effort to engage diplomatically with the Saudi government to halt the execution of these prisoners, to seek their pardon or to bring them back,” the statement said.

“Despite being a close regional ally, the Kingdom executes more Pakistanis than any other foreign nationality”, it said.

The United Nations in a joint report with JPP in 2018 found “widespread due process violations by the Saudi criminal justice system and Saudi courts, including long periods of detention without charge or trial, no legal assistance, pressure to sign confessions and accept predetermined prison sentences to avoid prolonged arbitrary detention, and ineffective or pernicious translation services for defendants.”

A list of recommendations advises the Saudi government to “adopt a written penal code in compliance with international standards” and the Pakistani government to “provide adequate consular services for Pakistani detainees in Saudi Arabia”, among others.

“Fatima’s beheading is a gross failure of the Pakistani mission to do its constitutional duty”, said Sarah Belal, JPP’s executive director.

“The government of Pakistan must utilise all diplomatic channels to compel the Saudi government to halt the executions of Pakistanis facing the harshest punishment,” Belal added.

Also read: PM Modi to urge Saudi Arabia to get its friend Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism


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  1. Felt an involuntary shudder when we saw boards at Changi airport, Singapore, warning visitors that drug smuggling carried the death penalty. Thoughts went to innocent passengers getting entrapped, often without their knowledge. Saudi Arabia is, of course, not the place to reason with the authorities. Shares with China the dubious distinction of of executing the largest number of people each year. Or the United States, as Rajat Gupta said on OTC, with three million people in jail. The criminal justice system needs to be reformed and humanised.

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