Gruesome footage circulating on social media shows Saudi authorities publicly beheading a woman in the holy city of Mecca earlier this week. The execution is the tenth to be carried out in country in the last two weeks; setting 2015 up to be even more bloody than last year, when 87 people were punitively killed by the state.
Rare video of Monday's killing shows the woman, a Burmese resident named as Lalia Bint Abdul Muttablib Basim, screaming while being dragged along the street. Four police officers then hold the woman down before a sword-wielding man slices her head off, using three blows to complete the act.
In the chilling recording, Bashim, who was found guilty in a Saudi Sharia court of sexually abusing and murdering her seven-year-old step-daughter, is heard protesting her innocence until the very end. "I did not kill. I did not kill," she screams repeatedly.
Filming of executions is normally strictly prohibited by Saudi authorities raising speculation that a security official may have covertly videoed the killing.
In a statement released on their official website, the Saudi Ministry of Interior said that the brutally delivered death penalty was warranted due to the "enormity of the crime," and was carried out 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.
Saudi Arabia bases its legal system on a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia law that imposes a wide-range of physical punishments for a number of crimes. The death penalty can be given for several offences including, armed robbery, drug-related offences, sorcery, adultery, murder, and rape.
Beheading is widely seen in the country as the most humane means of executing but death by stoning, crucifixion, and death by firing squad is also carried out.
Bashim's execution comes as the Saudi authorities are already under the spotlight for the public flogging of Raif Badawi, a blogger and political activist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a total of 1,000 lashings for a range of offenses, including insulting religious authorities. Badawi set up the "Liberal Saudi Network," a website that aimed to provide a forum for public debate in the country. The blogger was previously arrested in 2008 for apostasy — a crime also punishable by death.
After Badawi's conviction his lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in jail for "undermining the regime and officials," "inciting public opinion," and "insulting the judiciary" in an anti-terrorism court.
Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, described the Saudi authorities record on basic rights as dismal. "There's no movement forward, and if anything it's backwards," he told VICE News.
Coogle said that it was "impossible to know what the Saudi authorities were thinking." Yet he also noted that since the Arab uprisings that began in 2011 the Saudi authorities have approached all domestic dissent as a security issue. "With every execution announced we see the government use this rhetoric of security," he told VICE News.
The vast majority of executions in Saudi Arabia are for drug-related offenses and murders. But the state has also shown a willingness to impose increasingly severe sentences on dissidents with 10- to 15-year prison sentences being imposed on political activists. "Some charges, as in the case of Badawi, are not in themselves crimes, it's a matter of freedom of expression," Coogle said. "This is particularly troubling."
Yet in the current regional security climate, Saudi Arabia is not alone in wanting to appear tough on dissent and willing to exact severe punishments. In December, Jordan ended an eight-year de-facto moratorium on the death penalty and reportedly hanged 11 men. In the same month Pakistan also brought back the death penalty following a brutal Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that left 148 people dead, including 132 students.
While several western authorities have spoken out against Badawi's case, in general governments have been slow to condemn oil-rich Saudi Arabia. "The US and European governments have always been reluctant to take publicly critical positions on Saudi Arabia," Coogle said. "This is a matter of a whole bunch of economic and regional security and stability issues, but human rights typically ends up a low priority in these circumstances."
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