(Beirut) – Judicial authorities in Saudi Arabia should take urgent steps to end the indefinite detention of a man who can’t raise the money to compensate an attack victim.
Ali al-Khawahar, 31, completed a six-year criminal sentence in 2010 as punishment for a January 14, 2004 incident in which he stabbed a childhood friend in the back near his spinal cord. The stabbing left the friend permanently paralyzed. In addition to the criminal sentence, he also faced a Qisas, or “equal retaliation” judgment, which under Saudi law stipulates a direct “eye-for-an-eye” physical punishment or payment of compensation to the victim. The Justice Ministry stated on April 8, 2013, that the court would not apply a “paralysis” retribution punishment in this case, leaving payment of compensation as the only avenue for al-Khawahar to obtain his freedom.
“Ali al-Khawahar has served his sentence, and should not remain imprisoned just because he and his family are too poor to pay compensation” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “What kind of justice system lets rich people out of prison but keeps poor people jailed forever if they don’t have money to pay a fine.”
A source with direct knowledge about the situation told Human Rights Watch that in 2004 the al-Ahsa Criminal Court sentenced al-Khawahar, who was 21 at the time of the crime, to six years in prison in a criminal trial. The court did not permit him to have a lawyer represent him in court, and al-Khawahar did not dispute the charges, the source said.
In May 2006, the victim of al-Khawahar’s attack petitioned the al-Ahsa Public Court, which has jurisdiction over matters outside the purview of criminal courts, to apply Qisas, an Islamic law principle meaning “equal retaliation,” by which courts can impose direct “eye-for-an-eye” punishments on people who cause physical harm unless they agree to pay the aggrieved party a stipulated sum. The source said that the victim initially requested two million Saudi Riyals (US$533,000) but later lowered his request to one million Riyals (US$266,000).
A copy of the July 17, 2007, Public Court decision obtained by Human Rights Watch states that, “The two parties have voluntarily agreed without compulsion or force from one