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Drug trafficking and the Saudi sword

Saudi Arabia

Following the execution of one Kudirat Afolabi, a Nigerian woman, by the Saudi Arabian authorities earlier this month for drug trafficking, reports emerged that eight Nigerians have already been executed in the Kingdom (probably in this year alone), while twenty-three others are currently on death row.

The federal government has come under renewed criticism for allegedly not doing enough to save Nigerians facing execution in Saudi Arabia, for drug trafficking and other crimes that attract capital punishment in the Kingdom.

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It’s important to point out that capital punishment for drug trafficking was introduced in Saudi Arabia in 1986 when the then King Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud wrote to the Hait-Kibarul Ulama i.e. Council of Senior Scholars in the Kingdom under its then Chairman, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baaz, seeking juristic thoughts  on the appropriate judicial punishment for drug trafficking in view of the extremely destructive impacts of drugs on individuals and communities, as well as the sheer magnitude of the threat posed by drug trafficking to the Kingdom’s socio-economic well-being and political stability.

After sessions of thorough deliberations in light of relevant Shari’a jurisprudential principles on the bases of relevant Qur’anic and Sunnatic texts especially the Qur’anic verse 33 of Suratul-Ma’idah, the Council recommended the introduction of capital punishment as the appropriate judicial punishment for drug trafficking, and to serve as a maximum deterrent to other would-be Kingdom-bound drug traffickers.

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By the way, the Council had obviously deliberated in the context of Ta’azir, a Shari’a judicial principle that allows eminent Muslim jurists to recommend punishments they deem appropriate for crimes not specifically addressed in the Qur’an or authentic Sunnah.

Anyway, it’s equally important to note that the process leading to the execution of a convicted drug trafficker in the Kingdom is exhaustive, contrary to what some people apparently assume. On average, the period between the arrest and execution of a convicted drug trafficker ranges between a year and a couple of years of investigations and trials.

A drug trafficking suspect in the Kingdom is always tried, at first, before a three-judge open court where he is provided with a translator if he can’t understand Arabic, and free defence lawyer services. The proceedings are held in as many court sessions as necessary leading to either his conviction or immediate acquittal, depending on the prosecution and defence evidence presented to the court.

Also, even if found guilty, the case file is automatically transferred to a five-judge court of appeal where the guilty verdict issued by the first court will be thoroughly scrutinized to uphold or quash it, depending on the judges’ findings.

Likewise, even if the court of appeal upholds the verdict, the case file is again automatically transferred to the five-judge Supreme Court of the Kingdom in Riyadh where the guilty verdict of the two previous courts will equally be exhaustively reviewed to uphold or quash, depending on its findings.

Though the Supreme Court decision is final, yet even if it upholds the guilty verdict, the case file is still automatically transferred to the King who will be briefed by his legal advisers before he issues a Royal Decree giving the go-ahead to carry out the execution. Also, the country of a non-Saudi convict is always duly informed through its embassy in Riyadh or consulate in Jeddah, before executing him.

In short, typically a person convicted of drug trafficking in the Kingdom has been tried by thirteen judges at three courts of different hierarchical jurisdictions. A convict is usually only informed of his imminent execution on the morning of his last day on earth.

I have witnessed a few public executions in Riyadh and Makkah. A typical public execution takes place in a mosque yard. Amid tight security, the convict is brought out from a prison van and led gently into the centre of the yard, handcuffed, leg-chained and blindfolded. He is made to kneel down. The executioner examines the convict’s kneeling posture and the balance of his head, apparently to ensure that he hits the right spot on the back of his neck. He (executioner) then takes a few steps back, draws his sword out of its sheath, moves closer to the convict with his glittering bare sword, and cuts off the convict’s head with one strong and swift strike.

Of course, the scene is so gory that even some of the policemen around can’t stand watching; they turn their backs shortly before the execution. Anyway, a prepared short announcement from a nearby public address van follows giving a summary of what the executed person had committed and the judicial process that led to his execution. Afterwards, the body and the head are loaded onto a mortuary van while a vacuum truck comes in to wash off the blood as the spectators disperse.

Obviously with the sheer amount of warnings continuously flowing around that drug trafficking attracts capital punishment in Saudi Arabia, and that the punishment is indeed carried out, the insistence of Saudi-bound drug traffickers to carry on anyway is the height of recklessness.

Now, while the federal government should improve its anti-drug trafficking measures, it’s equally important to tackle the crimes being perpetrated by some particularly callous drug traffickers said to be operating at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), where they take advantage of some unsuspecting Saudi-bound Umrah or Hajj travellers to plant drugs in their luggage hoping they wouldn’t attract exhaustive scrutiny at the Saudi airports in view of their unassuming appearance and apparent innocence. Though a few victims have been saved from the Saudi sword, thanks partly to the efforts of the Nigerian Consulate-General in Jeddah, others are still out there languishing in the misery of fear and constant uncertainty.

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