Is Saudi Arabia any less brutal than ISIS?

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia embraces the same capital punishment techniques on convicted criminals as the Islamic terrorist group does on innocent hostages.

Saudi Press Agency/Reuters
Saudi Arabia's King Salman (r.) receives Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Riyadh on Monday. The Kingdom has beheaded 37 convicted criminals this year.

Just over two months into 2015, Saudi Arabia has beheaded 37 convicted criminals. 

The two most recent came on Tuesday when Saudi Arabian authorities beheaded convicted rapist Mohammed bin Ali bin Mohammed al-Bishi, who reportedly assaulted his victim at gunpoint, and in a separate execution, Hamoud bin Salih bin Falih al-Zubi, who reportedly shot and killed a fellow citizen following a dispute, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported. 

"[Mohammed al-Bishi] also committed a number of armed robberies causing panic amongst the society. He had entered a number of homes by force and tried to kidnap and rape women and children," a government-issued statement read.

If the current trend continues, the Kingdom projects to exceed the 87 beheadings carried out last year, which was up from 78 the year before, by the AFP's count. The US has executed eight convicted criminals so far this year. Saudi Arabia is currently a member of the United Nations Council on Human Rights with its term set to expire in 2016.

Crimes such as murder, armed robbery, and sexual assault, among others, are all punishable by death in Saudi Arabia because the legal system is based on a strict interpretation of sharia or Islamic law. This leads some to question Western governments' attitudes towards the Kingdom when they carry out similar punishments as the Islamic State performs on innocent hostages, according to Newsweek.

There isn't a morale equivalency but critics question the double standard when it comes to the brutal beheadings. 

“There seems to be a disconnect between Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the practices of the Islamic State and the kingdom’s own state-sanctioned practices,” Lina Khatib of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut told Newsweek.

Since the Islamic State group became organized in the midst of the chaos from the Syrian civil war, media and human rights reports have detailed the cruelty and inhumanity ISIS has brought to the embattled region. The latest United Nations report, cited by Reuters, shed light on the group kidnapping children and selling them as sex slaves, and killing scores of others via crucifixion and being buried alive.

Back in February, ISIS reportedly decapitated 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, according to CNN. In response, the Egyptian air force bombed ISIS-affiliated targets inside Libya less than a week later, the BBC reported. This followed high-profile beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff in 2014. The group's Algerian partners captured and executed a French mountaineering guide in late September. Also, three foreign aid workers, David Gaines, Alan Henning, and Peter Kassig, were all executed over the course of 2014. Two Japanese hostages were executed early in 2015.

The UN report also indicated that boys under the age of 18 were being forced into becoming suicide bombers and bomb makers. The reach of the group is disturbing because, though many children from Yazidi and Christian minorities' have been taken hostage, children of both Sunnis and Shi'ites have been abducted as well, according to Reuters.

"We are really deeply concerned at torture and murder of those children, especially those belonging to minorities, but not only from minorities," UN committee expert Renate Winter told the gathered media at a press conference. "The scope of the problem is huge."

Monday, an Associated Press (AP) story reported that ISIS has simply chosen varied elements from the entirety of Islamic history to construct an ideology using distorted accounts of this history. Joas Wagemakers, assistant professor of Islamic Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, told the AP this amounted to an attempt by the IS to make God, "a co-conspirator in a genocidal project." 

As for Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International reported on the state of individual liberty among Saudis for 2014-2015, and reported that death penalties can also be handed down for offenses such as "sorcery," simple/minor drug possession, apostasy, and adultery. 

VICE News reported that executions by firing squad, stonings, and crucifixions are also employed by Saudi Arabian authorities in addition to beheadings, which they view as the most human method. The means in which individuals are convicted and subject to these death sentences, in some instances, have been extracted through coerced confessions and torture, according to Amnesty International. Citizens are subject to arbitrary arrests with indefinite detention without access to a lawyer and without being charged for as long as six months, according to the same report. 

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