Saudi Arabia has eliminated flogging as a form of punishment, Reuters reported on Friday, citing a document from the kingdom’s top court.
The punishment will be replaced by jail time or fines, according to the document by the General Commission for the Supreme Court.
“The decision is an extension of the human rights reforms introduced under the direction of King Salman and the direct supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” the document said, according to Reuters.
Flogging as a punishment is commonly used for a number of crimes in Saudi Arabia. The most high-profile instance of flogging in recent years was the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in 2014 for “insulting” Islam.
“This reform is a momentous step forward in Saudi Arabia’s human rights agenda, and merely one of many recent reforms in the Kingdom,” the president of the state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) Awwad Alawwad told Reuters.
However, other forms of corporal punishment, including amputation for theft or beheading for murder, are not yet outlawed.
“This is a welcome change, but it should have happened years ago,” said Adam Coogle, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.
“There’s nothing now standing in the way of Saudi Arabia reforming its unfair judicial system.”
The abolition of flogging in Saudi Arabia comes just days after the kingdom’s human rights record was again in the spotlight following news of the death from a stroke in custody of leading activist Abullah al-Hamid, 69.
Hamid was a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and was sentenced to 11 years in jail in March 2013, campaigners said.
He was convicted on multiple charges, including “breaking allegiance” to the Saudi ruler, “inciting disorder” and seeking to disrupt state security, Amnesty International said.
Criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has grown since King Salman named his son Prince Mohammed crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017.
The October 2018 murder of vocal critic Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and the increased repression of dissidents at home have overshadowed the prince’s pledge to modernise the economy and society.