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Saudi Arabia Executes Royal Family Member for Murder

  • Prince found guilty of shooting Saudi national after brawl
  • 134 people executed in kingdom so far this year: rights group

A Saudi prince has been executed after he was convicted of murder, a punishment that’s being seen by some as an attempt to assure Saudis that all are equal before law at a time of unprecedented change in the conservative kingdom.

Prince Turki bin Saud Al Kabir was found guilty of shooting dead another man after a brawl. The sentence was carried out Tuesday after a royal order. While it’s unclear if the timing was related to reforms in the kingdom, what’s certain is that capital punishment for a royal is rare. One of the last known executions was that of a prince who killed his uncle, King Faisal, in 1975.

The announcement came as many Saudis come to terms with a new era of relative austerity following decades of shared prosperity. The kingdom is struggling to rein in its ballooning finances after a prolonged oil price slump and has already suspended bonus payments for state employees and cut energy subsidies. In a sign of how times are changing, Saudi Arabia is planning a $17.5 billion bond sale, the biggest ever by an emerging market country.

It may be a “way to say everyone’s equal in the eyes of the law,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates, said by phone from Dubai. “There are reforms that are taking place on the political, economic and social fronts and obviously a judicial reform is going to have to be part and parcel” of that, he said.

The Interior Ministry, which announced the death in a statement, didn’t provide further details.

Death Row

Convicted murderers, rapists, drug traffickers and armed robbers -- both locals and foreigners -- are often beheaded in Saudi Arabia. Death sentences for murder can be put aside if the family of the victim accepts blood money and the killing is unrelated to other crimes, such as drug trafficking or terrorism.

While the execution may be aimed at showing a fairer kingdom, the timing could also be coincidental.

Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, which campaigns against capital punishment, said it’s not “clear that this execution stemming from a four-year-old murder is tied” to any specific reform effort.

The prince’s execution brings to 134 the number of people executed in Saudi Arabia this year, 24 less than last year’s total, according to Human Rights Watch. They include 47 men convicted of terrorism-related crimes, one of them prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whose death in January sparked a diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Nimr’s nephew is also on death row.

“The criticism of the Saudi justice system hasn’t usually been that it favors certain people over others, or that people with connections or people from the royal family get off,” Coogle said from Amman. “The criticism has been about the quality of justice, the fact that there’s no penal code, that judges are able to make rulings according to their own interpretations of Islamic law, that there’s not always conformity in sentences that are handed down.”

Public Reaction

News of the execution was greeted with approval by many Saudis, including members of the royal family, who used social media to praise King Salman’s “decisiveness” and “fairness.”

Tweeting to more than 5 million followers under the hashtags of “justice is the basis of governance” and “decisive Salman orders retribution for a prince,” billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, founder of business conglomerate Kingdom Holding, prayed for mercy for the killer and his victim.

Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, a prominent Saudi lawyer and activist, described the execution as “great news,” saying “the greatest thing is that the citizen can see the law being applied to everyone.”

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