Saudi Arabia is to abolish flogging as a form of criminal punishment, according to legal documents.
The state-sanctioned lashings will be replaced by prison sentences or fines, a directive from the Gulf kingdom’s Supreme Court says.
The Supreme Court which said the recent development is intended to “bring the kingdom into line with international human rights norms against corporal punishment”, added that it is part of reforms pushed by King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and his son, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Judges in the country will now have to choose between fines and/or jail sentences or non-custodial alternatives like community service.
Other forms of capital and corporal punishment – including beheading for murder and amputations for theft – will remain in use.
AFP reported that the abolition of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia comes just days after the kingdom’s human rights record was again in the spotlight, following news of the death from a stroke in custody of leading activist Abullah al-Hamid, 69.
News of the plans to scrap flogging has been welcomed by human rights campaigners.
“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 president of the state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) Awwad Alawwad.
“This is a welcome change but it should have happened years ago,” said Adam Coogle, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.
“There’s nothing now standing in the way of Saudi Arabia reforming its unfair judicial system.”
Most high-profile instance of flogging in recent years was the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes and then resentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes in 2014 for blogging about free speech and “insulting Islam”.