There is a shortage of personnel in Saudi Arabia to execute beheadings according to the Islamic law that governs the Oil Kingdom. A backlog in executions has prompted reforms by the Saudi ministry of justice to allow execution of capital punishment by firing squad, rather than the traditional separation of head and body by the sword. Fewer men are stepping up to undertake a career in beheading, which requires training in the proper use of a sword. The Justice Ministry bemoaned the labor shortage, which comes despite the continued demand for executioners. Since January of this year, for example, at least 40 persons have been executed. In 2012, 76 people were executed in Saudi Arabia. The most recent beheading occurred on June 4, when Wajid Ali Zarnoosh – a Pakistani – was beheaded for smuggling narcotics. This followed the June 3 execution of a Saudi convicted of murder, Shuwail bin Mohamed Bin Ahmed al-Amri, who put to death by the sword in the southwest region of al-Baha.
In Saudi Arabia, courts find themselves forced to compete for executioners who travel the country to render Islamic justice. Because of the rate of executions, and the current shortage of sword-wielders, the Justice Ministry issued an order to speed things up by allowing courts to carry out capital punishment via firing squad, having determined that the practice is not contrary to sharia – Islamic religious law.
For many year, human rights groups and Western governments have encouraged Saudi Arabia to institute fairer trials and an end to capital punishment. However, the Oil Kingdom continues to be the only country in the world that carries out public beheadings. The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is applied to cases of murder, armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking, as well as apostasy, witchcraft and sodomy.
Severe punishments, short of beheadings, are meted out for minor offenses such as theft and political dissidence. In those cases, jail time and/or public flogging or the severing of hands or feet are common. In one such case, two men, a Lebanese and a Saudi, were sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes each for encouraging a young woman to convert to Christianity. The case generated considerable discussion in Saudi Arabia. The pair were convicted despite the fact that the young woman, who has taken refuge in Sweden, defended them, saying in a video that she had converted without compulsion. In another case that garnered international attention, 17-year-old Rizana Nafeek of Sri Lanka was beheaded in January 2013 for the accidental death of a Saudi infant in her care.