A Saudi prince has been executed after he was convicted of murder, a punishment that’s being seen 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 another Saudi national after a brawl. The sentence was upheld by two higher courts and carried out Tuesday after a royal order, the Interior Ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency. The ministry didn’t provide further details about the prince.
Convicted murderers, rapists, drug traffickers and armed robbers — both locals and foreigners — are often beheaded in Saudi Arabia. But the execution of a royal, who number in the thousands, is a rare event. One of the last known executions of a Saudi royal was that of a prince who killed his uncle, King Faisal, in 1975.
The execution came as Saudi Arabia is rolling out widespread reforms as it struggles under a prolonged oil-price slump and soaring deficits. Bonus payments for state employees have been cut and energy subsidies slashed, introducing many Saudis to economic uncertainty after decades of shared prosperity.
It’s “a way to say everyone’s equal in the eyes of the law” as the government introduces the changes, 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 the program, he said.
Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, which campaigns against capital punishment, said it’s not “clear that this execution stemming from a 4-year-old murder is tied” to any specific reform effort.
“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.”
The news 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.
Another member of the royal family, Khalid Al Saud, said on Twitter that “this is Allah’s law and this is the approach of our blessed state.”
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.”
The prince’s execution brings to 134 the number of people executed in Saudi Arabia this year, said Coogle. 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. There were 158 executions in 2015, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in July.