A Shocking Look at the Way Saudi Arabia Deals With Its Immigrants

Five Yemeni gangsters charged with murder and robbery are hanging by their shoulders in the main square of Jizan, a Saudi Arabian city with a high traffic of Yemeni and African immigrants. The heads of the culprits dangle in bags alongside their bodies. 


According to Saudi activist Mohammad Alsaaedi, "the government is also seeking to show how tough it is. Many Saudis believe that immigrants from Yemen and Africa are causing an uptick in crime in the region. The authorities are seeking to reassure the population and frighten the immigrants coming to the region in large numbers."

The beheadings and the "crucifixions," or public display, took place on Tuesday outside Jizan's university while students were taking exams. As per tradition, the executioner used a scimitar, or curved sword. Executions appear to be on the rise in Saudi Arabia, with at least 47 so far this year, compared with 29 this time last year, and 18 in 2011, reported Amnesty International. Strict adherence to Sharia law makes a variety of crimes punishable by execution, including rape, murder, apostasy (or the renunciation of Islam), armed robbery, and drug trafficking. One Saudi man was beheaded in 2012 for sorcery.

Given that the U.S. "does more trade — overwhelmingly in oil and weapons — with Saudi Arabia than any other country in the Middle East, including Israel," the question remains: how much hypocrisy can Americans stomach while our forces fight for freedom in the Middle East when our greatest economic ally is considered the region's most repressive regime?

But before we get our feathers ruffled, let's compare these beheadings with capital punishment in the U.S. Granted, the Saudi judicial system is a sham: prosecutors and judges largely define the law to their own discretion, and the punishment methodology is medieval. However, according to Amnesty International, "almost all death row inmates [in the U.S.] could not afford their own attorney at trial. Local politics, the location of the crime, plea bargaining, and pure chance affect the process and make it a lottery of who lives and dies." Moreover, since 1973, 142 people have been released from death row for wrongful convictions, while 1,200 have been executed in the same period.

While we should be very critical of the Saudi regime and the arms deals the U.S. makes with them, the American voice cannot legitimately condemn such human rights violations until we reform our own judicial system and eliminate the death penalty (not to mention Gtmo).

As long as we practice capital punishment, we're in the same boat as China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.