After centuries of public beheadings, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is considering firing squads as an alternative means of execution.
A special inter-ministerial committee has recommended that "because of the scarcity of swordsmen and their unavailability in a number of regions" the princes who govern Saudi provinces should be free to use firing squads, according to a statement from the committee, reported in Saudi newspapers on Sunday.
The few officially authorized swordsmen were so busy traveling between different regions to conduct executions that they sometimes arrived late, "which causes security confusion" complicated by "the resulting spreading of rumors through modern technology," the statement noted.
Saudi Arabia is the only country that still executes criminals by beheading, carried out with a sword and conducted in public. The kingdom has beheaded 15 people so far this year and more than 75 in each of the past two years.
The Saudi monarchy maintains that the Koran is the kingdom’s only constitution. Saudi Arabia has no formal criminal code. The country’s courts apply a literal interpretation of medieval punishments described in the Koran, including occasionally cutting off the hands of thieves and more rarely stoning adulterers.
Although most Muslim scholars disagree, the kingdom has generally treated beheading by sword as the proper Islamic method of execution under the Koran, and the Saudis apply the sword quite liberally: in convictions for murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and other offenses.
But Saudi Arabia has also conducted occasional executions by firing squad. The committee found that killing by gunfire “does not constitute a religious violation,” the statement said.