A man who filmed the gruesome video of a public beheading of a woman in Saudi Arabia, which sparked international outrage from human rights activists, has been arrested and is expected to face prosecution, local media has reported.
Circulating on social media last week, the rare footage from January 12 shows Lalia Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, a woman from Myanmar who was convicted under Sharia law of sexually abusing and murdering her stepdaughter, being dragged through a street before being pinned down and beheaded by a swordsman.
Filming executions is barred in the Gulf kingdom. According to Gulf News, the arrested individual has not been named, but is expected to face charges in Saudi Arabia's Sharia and military courts. Charges against the man have not been confirmed, but the offense may qualify under Saudi Arabia's cybercrimes laws, a spokesman with the Interior Ministry said, according to the_New York Times_.
Despite the uproar over the footage, last week the Interior Ministry defended its use of the death penalty in the case, saying the "enormity of the crime" warranted the punishment, which was done in order to "restore security" and "realize justice."
"[The punishment] implements the rulings of God against all those who attack innocents and spill their blood. The government warns all those who are seduced into committing a similar crimes that the rightful punishment is their fate," the statement said.
After the video was released, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), based in the city of Mecca, where Basim was put to death, called on the person who filmed the beheading to be punished.
"Those who disseminated the clip are not less guilty than those who filmed the execution," NSHR member Mohammad Al Sahli told Gulf News, with the organization claiming the act violated privacy.
Basim was the 10th person to be executed in Saudi Arabia in 2015, following 87 people who were put to death in 2014. While the punishment falls under the country's strict Sharia law, groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) have criticized the practice, especially in cases of non-deadly crimes like sorcery or drug smuggling. Murders and drug-related offenses account for a majority of executions in the country, while political activists can end up with 10 to 15-year prison sentences.
The controversy over Basim's public execution comes as critics rail against the pending public flogging of Saudi blogger and political activist Raif Badawi, who received a 10-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashings for charges that include insulting religious authorities. Badawi has received the first of many rounds of lashes — an event which was also caught on film — but authorities did not carry out the second round, which was scheduled for January 16.
A Middle East researcher for HRW, Adam Coogle, told VICE News that in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, authorities in the country have increasingly approached cases of domestic dissent as issues of national safety.
"With every execution announced we see the government use this rhetoric of security," Coogle said.
Additional reporting by Harriet Salem