Syria rebel fighters were joined by Saudi Arabian death row inmates, who were given a choice between beheading and fighting in the Syrian War. PHOTO: Reuters
Saudi Arabia commuted the sentences of over 1,200 death row inmates in exchange for them fighting for the rebel forces in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, according to the Assyrian International News Agency. The inmates were given a simple choice: fight for the Syrian rebels or be beheaded. The report comes from a leaked secret memo from April 2012, a year into the civil war in Syria. A translation of the memo reads as follows (emphasis mine):
Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings
In reference to the Royal Court telegram No. 112, dated on 04/19/1433 H [March 3, 2012], referring to those held in the Kingdom jails accused with crimes to which Islamic Sharia law of execution by sword [decapitation] applies, we inform you that we are in dialogue with the accused criminals who have been convicted with smuggling drugs, murder, rape, from the following nationalities: 110 Yemenis, 21 Palestinians, 212 Saudis, 96 Sudanese, 254 Syrians, 82 Jordanians, 68 Somalis, 32 Afghanis, 94 Egyptians, 203 Pakistanis, 23 Iraqis, and 44 Kuwaitis.
So…I guess this is good news. Certainly 1,200 people being saved from decapitation is a good thing. They are not exactly free, but they won’t be in prison any longer. Sending them to fight against the Assad regime is better than fighting with the Assad regime.
Still, it’s a terrible precedent to turn death row inmates into soldiers: it encourages Saudi Arabia to find more death row inmates, and while the death penalty is bad, forced enlistment in a war is not much better. Also, the detail about holding their families hostage within Saudi Arabian borders makes this move that much darker.
The real human rights violation is that Saudi Arabia had over 1,200 death row inmates to begin with.