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Saudi Arabia denies ‘paralysis sentence’

Justice Ministry denies reports of sentence of surgical paralysis for young man

  • Mohammad Al Hazim with his parents at their home.Image Credit: Courtesy: Al Watan
  • Ali Al Khawahir.Image Credit: Al Watan
Gulf News

Riyadh/Manama: Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry has denied reports that a judge sentenced a young man to be surgically paralysed in retribution for stabbing a friend who was also left unable to move.

The case was originally reported in local media and prompted outrage from governments and human rights groups around the world, bringing renewed scrutiny to an Islamic legal system that has no sentencing guidelines or system of precedent in determining punishments.

“The ministry would like to announce that this is utterly incorrect, and in fact the judicial ruling was contrary to that. The judge had shied away from demanding this punishment,” the ministry said on its official Twitter feed on Monday. “We hope that everyone verifies the facts because fabricated news undermine the credibility of those who disseminate them,” it said.

The ministry issued a series of tweets on the subject, but did not reveal what the man’s sentence had in fact been.

The Saudi Gazette reported last month that Ali Al Khawahir, 24, had been ordered to pay $270,000 (Dh991,440) or be paralysed for a crime he had committed 10 years earlier when he was 14 years old.

He had reportedly stabbed a school friend who was paralysed as a result.

Human rights group Amnesty International described the reported sentence as “torture”. The United Kingdom called it “grotesque”.

According to the ruling by a local court, he cannot be released unless he pays the compensation money.

In an interview with a Saudi daily two years ago, wheel chair-bound Mohammad said that he and Ali were close neighbours and friends who often spent time together.

He said that that one day they had an argument during which Ali took out a knife and stabbed him in the neck as he was going to school.

“Ali fled the scene and I was taken to King Fahad Hospital in Al Hafoof where I kept under observation for seven months,” Mohammad told Al Watan daily. “According to the medical report, I had permanent disabilities. I am paralyzed in the lower limbs, I have a lifelong loss of control over urine and excrement and I cannot have sex,” he said.

Ali, confined to a cell in prison for ten years, said that he had been regretting the “terribly dramatic incident.”

“Mohammad and I were more than friends,” he told the daily over the phone. “Unfortunately, it took just one moment of foolishness. I did not know that the stabbing would results in the dramas that we are sadly living today. I have tried often times to convince Mohammad to pardon me, but he invariably refused and deep inside I do not blame him. What aggravates my woes is that I am bound to remain in prison all my life. My family is totally unable to raise the required blood money. I pray God all the time for mercy and forgiveness. I have spent so many years here during which my father died and I could not be at his funeral,” he said.

“God, please return my son to me, like You reunited Joseph with his father Jacob,” Ali’s mother said, referring to the two prophets in the Quran.

The mother said that her family was “simply unable to pay the SR 1 million” that would make her neighbours forgive her son and allow him to come home.

Mohammad’s mother also lamented her son’s tragic fate.

“My heart melts every time I look at my youthful son unable to move,” she said. “I had dreams of seeing him get married and have children, but he is now in a wheel chair.”

She ruled out any talk about forgiving Ali and allowing him to be reunited with his mother.

“What about me and my son? Who will take care of us? I felt torn to pieces every morning when I see him in this state. He was just 16 when he was paralysed.”

Saudi Arabia’s Sharia justice system gives judges extensive leeway to reach verdicts and award sentences based on their own interpretation of the law. Capital punishment is common, and can be applied for crimes ranging from murder and armed robbery to drug smuggling and witchcraft.

King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz ordered sweeping judicial reforms in 2007, including setting up specialist courts to handle criminal, financial, family and other cases, and retraining for judges.

However, the reforms have moved slowly in the face of what Saudi political scientists and some Justice Ministry officials describe as bitter opposition from conservatives.

- with inputs from Reuters