Saudi Arabia’s Justice Minister has defended tough Sharia punishments such as beheading, cutting off hands and lashing, claiming they “cannot be changed” because they are enshrined in Islamic law.
“These punishments are based on divine religious texts and we cannot change them,” Mohammed Al Eissa reportedly said during a recent speech in Washington.
The minister said Islamic law had helped to reduce crime in the conservative kingdom.
Capital punishment was carried out in many other countries, including the US, and was not isolated to Islamic states, he said.
He said lashings were only given to those convicted of serious crimes related to “honour”, while Sharia – or Islamic – law did not approve of cutting off the hands of suspected thieves.
“Islam sympathises with the victim, not the criminal,” Al Eissa said.
“Islam is a religion of wisdom that calls for dialogue with other religious faiths and peaceful coexistence with other communities.
“If it was not a good religion, it would not have lasted for more than 1400 years and won millions of followers around the world.”
Speaking to American lawyers, legal consultants and academics, Al Eissa criticised international human rights groups that call for changes to the kingdom’s judiciary, claiming they made “big mistakes” because they misunderstood the country and Islam.
“Any attack on the judiciary will be considered an attack on the kingdom’s sovereignty,” he said.
International organisations have deplored Saudi Arabia’s high number of capital punishment sentences.
Nearly 80 people were executed in the kingdom during 2012, the fourth highest number in the world, according to Amnesty International. That was nearly half the 143 executions in 2007.
During the same year, the US executed 39 people, placing it fifth on the Amnesty International ranking.
Al Eissa said his country’s criminal justice system had improved in recent years.
“At Saudi courts, criminal proceedings are undertaken publicly to ensure transparency and fair justice,” he said.