A Saudi judge has asked several hospitals in the country whether they could damage a man's spinal cord as punishment after he was convicted of attacking another man with a cleaver and paralyzing him, local newspapers reported on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia enforces strict Islamic law and occasionally metes out punishments based on the ancient legal code of an eye-for-an-eye. However, Saudi King Abdullah has been trying to clamp down on extremist ideology.
The reports said Abdul-Aziz al-Mutairi, 22, was left paralyzed after a fight more than two years ago and asked a judge to impose an equivalent punishment on his attacker under Islamic law.
The newspaper Okaz said the judge in northwestern Tabuk province, identified as Saoud bin Suleiman al-Youssef, asked at least two hospitals for a medical opinion on whether surgeons could render the attacker's spinal cord nonfunctional. The attacker, who was not identified in the reports, has spent seven months in jail.
The reports cited the letter of response from one of the hospitals and the victim al-Mutairi.
Two of the hospitals involved and the court were closed for the Saudi weekend beginning Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Okaz reported that a leading hospital in Riyadh — King Faisal Specialist Hospital — responded that it could not do the operation. It quoted a letter from the hospital saying "inflicting such harm is not possible," apparently refusing on ethical grounds.
The papers did not carry any response from a second hospital that reportedly received the request, King Khaled Hospital in Tabuk province.
The story was also carried by Saudi English-language paper Arab News.
Islamic law applied in Saudi Arabia allows defendants to ask for a similar punishment for harms inflicted on them. Cutting off the hands of thieves, for example, is common.
Under the law, the victim can receive a blood money to settle the case.
Human rights group say trials in Saudi Arabia fall far below international standards. They usually take place behind closed doors and without adequate legal representation.
Those who are sentenced to death are often not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them or of the date of execution until the morning on which they are taken out and beheaded.
Crucifying the headless body in a public place is a way to set an example, according to the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.
Amnesty International expressed concerns over the reports and said the rights groups was contacting Saudi authorities for details.
"We are very concerned and we will appeal to the authorities not to carry out such a punishment," said Lamri Chirouf, the group's researcher on Saudi Arabia. Such measures are against international conventions against torture and international standards on human rights.
Chirouf said this was the first time Amnesty had heard of a punishment involving the damaging of a spinal cord.
"But it's hard to follow details of the Saudi justice system. People are sentenced in closed trials with no access to the public and no lawyers," he said.
According to Amnesty, in 2005, a convict in the kingdom had his teeth pulled out by a dentist because he had smashed another man's teeth out in a fight.
"We have also had cases of people sentenced to blindness because they have caused the blindness of another person," Chirouf said. "But never anything involving a spinal cord."
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