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Saudi Arabia: Visit to Hospital Patients and Digging Graves in Lieu of Prison Term

(June 12, 2015) The Criminal Court in Jeddah Province, Saudi Arabia, substituted a novel punishment for a prison sentence against two young women and two young men by ordering the women to visit ten intensive care patients in one of the government hospitals and the men to dig five graves. The crime for which the sentence was issued was the unlawful participation in a party of singing and dancing held in one of the province’s seaside resorts. Sources told Al-Hayat newspaper that the prosecutor disapproved of the alternative sentence and decided to file an appeal. (Jeddah Court Orders Two Girls and Two Young Men to Visit Ten Patients and Dig Five Graves!, AL-HAYAT (June 9, 2015) (in Arabic).)

A number of judges in the various regions of Saudi Arabia apply alternative sentencing based on their own discretionary opinions. Judge Yaser al-Balawi of the criminal court of Tabuk Province in particular is known for applying this type of alternative sentencing. Judge Balawi explains that he pursues alternative sentencing in order to spare the family of the convicted person the negative impact and problems to which the family might be exposed as a result of sending a person responsible for its sustenance to prison. (Id.)

A judicial source revealed to Al-Hayat that alternative sentencing is applied during the Hajj season, and there is no prohibition against applying it when it serves the public interest. The source further explained that the application of alternative sentencing is left to the discretion of the judge as he deems appropriate. (Id.)