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Column - Saudi Arabia deserves worldwide condemnation

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Will Saudi Arabia ever join modern civilization? Or will it remain a virtual medieval country?

Alas, the latter seems likely. Barbaric executions, most of them public beheadings, still take place in that country. Its "justice" system, based on Islamic Sharia law, is about as "just" as the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century, when so-called heretics were interrogated, tortured and put to death for the most ridiculous "crimes," mainly an unwillingness to believe in medieval Catholicism.

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Saudi Arabia is one of five countries that still practice public executions. The others, not surprisingly, are Iran, Syria, North Korea and Yemen. Those condemned in Saudi Arabia are beheaded by a swordsman in front of crowds. Some, including now and then female adulterers, are stoned to death.

One especially appalling execution happened last January when 22-year-old Rizana Nafeek was beheaded. Nafeek was convicted of smothering the 4-month-old baby boy whom she was babysitting. When she was just 17, Nafeek came to Saudi Arabia from Sri Lanka in order to work as a maid for a Saudi family. She wanted to earn money to help her three other siblings back home pay for schooling. At the time, in order to be accepted into a Saudi work program, Nafeek's passport was falsified to make her seem older than she was. She was a minor when the baby died, and she insisted the baby began choking while bottle-feeding and that she tried to revive it.

Nafeek had no access to lawyers. She did not speak Arabic. Her translator was poorly trained if not downright incompetent. Not once in her trial was the age issue considered, a glaring omission because Saudi Arabia, surprisingly, is a signatory to the international Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Can you imagine the helplessness and terror of Nafeek, undergoing a trial she did not understand so far from home, then languishing in a prison cell, missing so badly her loved ones as she awaited the fate of having her head severed? What kind of "justice" was that? It wasn't justice at all. It was an example of barbarity that should have ceased hundreds of years ago. It the same kind of "justice" that was meted out to the 14-year-old Pakistani girl by a Taliban goon, who shot her in the head just because she was on her way to school in a bus. Fortunately, that courageous girl lived, and her cause -- the right to education for Pakistani girls -- lives too.

It's stomach-churning how radical interpretations of religion are used to justify such utterly inhuman acts. In Saudi Arabia, there is a long list of crimes for which people can be executed, including adultery, witchcraft, sorcery and apostasy. The latter three, especially, hark back to the Dark Ages and to our own colonial Salem, Massachusetts, where at least 19 people, mostly women, were hanged for practicing "witchcraft." A charge of "apostasy" can be made against anyone who dares to criticize or to question Islam. Thus, Saudi Arabia, a theocratic monarchy, is obviously a very dark and dangerous place to live. Its leader, King Abdullah, must approve any execution.

Other atrocities occur regularly in Saudi Arabia, including cane-floggings, the amputation of hands and feet and the gouging out of eyes. In 2010, a 13-year-old schoolgirl was lashed 90 times in front of fellow students for allegedly assaulting her teacher. Another disturbing fact is that many people put to death are guest workers, like the unfortunate Nafeek, and they cannot properly defend themselves in such a feudal and lopsided "justice" system. As of last January, there were 45 guest-working maids on death row, awaiting execution.

Saudi Arabia, of course, is oil-rich. That's a shame because otherwise the United States would probably condemn that country as it does most other tyrannical nations. To find out more about Saudi Arabia's atrocities and how to protest them, go to www.amnesty.org. You can register your outrage via that site.

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Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at dennisdalman@jetup.net.

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