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Saudi executions concern U.N. officials

  |   Jan. 9, 2012 at 12:12 PM
TAIF, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The United Nations called on Saudi Arabia to restrict its use of the death penalty after reports of at least four recent executions, including a beheading.

The latest execution was that of Jahaz al-Baqmi, who was beheaded in the southern city of Taif after being convicted of stabbing a man to death, Bikyamasr.com reported.

In 2011, at least 78 people were executed in the country.

On Friday, a United Nations human rights official voiced concern over the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

"We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to respect international standards guaranteeing due process and the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty, and to reduce the number of offenses for which it may be imposed," Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in Geneva, Switzerland.

"What is even more worrying is that court proceedings often reportedly fall far short of international fair-trial standards, and the use of torture as a means to obtain confessions appears to be rampant," Colville said.

Colville condemned the country's use of the death penalty for crimes such as adultery, witchcraft and sorcery as well as the use of "cross amputation" -- cutting off a convict's right hand and left foot.

"We call on the authorities to halt the use of such cruel, inhuman, degrading punishment," Colville said.

He said Saudi Arabia, as a member of the Convention against Torture, is "bound by the absolute prohibition" against the use of torture and other forms of cruel punishment.

A human rights activist in Saudi Arabia said the death penalty is used "as both a deterrent and a way of getting the hardcore conservatives behind the government. It's a give-and-take."

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