Crime and Punishment
The incidence of crime was considered to be relatively low in
Saudi Arabia, and violent street crime was particularly unusual.
Crime rates had, however, risen with the presence of foreign workers.
An increase noted in the level of petty crime in 1989 was linked
to unemployment among Saudis and Yemeni residents of the kingdom.
The severity of penalties and the rigid system of enforcement
were credited by both officials and ordinary citizens with contributing
to the high standards of public safety. Supporters of severe punishment
believed that, although carried out infrequently, a beheading
or stoning reminded the people that such penalties remained in
force. Some observers disagreed, citing cultural traits and the
social forces bearing on Arabs of the peninsula as the main inhibiting
According to the Statistical Yearbook published by the
Ministry of Finance and National Economy, the most common crimes
in 1988 were theft (7,553 cases), the production, sale, and consumption
of alcohol (5,085 cases), altercations and quarreling (3,651 cases),
and moral offenses (2,576 cases). There were fifty-six murders
and 340 cases of attempted and threatened murder. There were twenty-nine
cases of arson and 574 cases involving forgery or fraud.
Crimes subject to the death sentence included murder, apostasy
from Islam, adultery, drug smuggling, and sabotage. Under certain
conditions, rape and armed robbery could also lead to execution.
Executions could be carried out by beheading, firing squad, or
stoning of the convicted person in a drugged state. All seventeen
executions carried out in 1990 were by beheading.
The sharia sets forth rigorous requirements for proof of adultery
or fornication. For the crime of adultery, four witnesses to the
act must swear to having witnessed the crime, and if such an accusation
does not hold up in court, the witnesses are then liable to punishment.
No one was executed for adultery in 1990, although during 1989
there were reliable reports of nonjudicial public stonings for
Under the sharia, repeated theft is punishable by amputation
of the right hand, administered under anesthetic. Because of its
severity, a number of qualifications have been introduced to mitigate
the punishment. If the thief repents and makes restitution before
the case is brought before a judge, the punishment can be reduced;
furthermore, the victim can demand recompense rather than punishment
or can grant a pardon. Highway crime was considered a crime against
public safety and thus subject to more severe punishment. Aggravated
theft can be punished by cross-amputation of a hand and a foot.
Such cases have been unusual, but Amnesty International reported
four of them in 1986. In 1990 fewer than ten hand amputations
took place, at least five of which were administered to foreigners.
Flogging with a cane was often imposed for offenses against religion
and public morality, such as drunkenness and gambling and the
neglect of prayer requirements and fasting. Although the flogging
was painful, the skin was not broken. The purpose was to degrade
rather than cripple the offender and serve as a deterrent to others.
United States citizens have been flogged for alcoholrelated offenses,
usually receiving from thirty to 120 strokes. A Kuwaiti sentenced
to prison in connection with terrorist bombings in Mecca was condemned
to receive a total of 1,500 lashes over the course of his twenty-year
In 1987, based on a ruling by the ulama, drug smugglers and those
who received and distributed drugs from abroad were made subject
to the death sentence for bringing "corruption" into the country.
First-time offenders faced prison terms, floggings, and fines,
or a combination of all three punishments. Those convicted for
a second time faced execution. By the end of 1987, at least nine
persons had been executed for offenses that involved drug smuggling,
most of them non-Saudis. According to the police, the antidrug
campaign and the death penalty had by 1989 reduced addiction by
60 percent and drug use by 26 percent. By late 1991, more than
110 drug sellers had been arrested since the law was put into
effect. Saudi officials claimed that the kingdom had the lowest
rate of drug addiction in the world, which they attributed to
the harsh punishments and the pious convictions of ordinary Saudis.
Drug use was said to persist, however, among wealthy younger Saudis
who acquired the habit abroad. Drug users included some members
of the royal family, who took advantage of their privileged status
to import narcotics.
Data as of December 1992