Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has abolished flogging as a form of punishment.
The court said on Saturday that the “human rights advances” are part of reforms pushed by King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and his son, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The court said the reform was intended to “bring the kingdom into line with international human rights norms against corporal punishment.”
Western governments and human rights bodies have regularly criticised Riyadh for its human rights record.
Previously the courts could order the flogging of convicts found guilty of offences ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder.
In future, judges will have to choose between fines and/or jail sentences, or non-custodial alternatives like community service.
Awwad Alwwad, president of the Kingdom’s Human Rights Commission, told Reuters: “This reform is a momentous step forward in Saudi Arabia’s human rights agenda, and merely one of the many recent reforms in the Kingdom.”
The last time that flogging in Saudi Arabia hit the headlines was in 2015 when blogger Raif Badawi was subjected to the punishment in public, reportedly after being convicted of cybercrime and insulting Islam.
He had been due to receive 1,000 lashes in weekly beatings but global outrage and reports that he nearly died put a stop to that part of his sentence.
Flogging has been prevalent in Islamic societies since the time of the Prophet (pubh) and has been implemented as part of Shari’ah law.
It is thought that several Muslim countries still carry out the punishment, including Sudan, Indonesia and Iran.
In recent years Mohammed bin Salman has sought to westernise Saudi Arabia by introducing western-style laws and entertainment.