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Saudi Arabia To End Flogging As Punishment, Document Reveals

A public flogging of a prisoner in Iran. Undated.

Saudi Arabia appears to be ending flogging as a form of punishment, according to a document from the kingdom's top court seen by Reuters on Friday.

The decision by the General Commission for the Supreme Court, taken sometime this month, will see the punishment replaced by prison sentences or fines, or a mixture of both.

"The decision is an extension of the human rights reforms introduced under the direction of King Salman and the direct supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman," the document said.

Flogging is an ancient form of punishment that has persisted in some Islamic countries influenced by Sharia, which is interpreted as mandating physical punishment.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is another clergy ruled country where flogging still takes place. Bothe Saudi Arabia and Iran also allow many executions.

Flogging has been applied to punish a variety of crimes in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Without a codified system of law to go with the texts making up sharia, or Islamic law, individual judges have the latitude to interpret religious texts and come up with their own sentences.

In Iran political prisoners are routinely sentenced to lashing along with any prison terms they receive.

Rights groups have documented past cases in which judges have sentenced criminals to flogging for a range of offences, including public intoxication and harassment.

"This reform is a momentous step forward in Saudi Arabia's human rights agenda, and merely one of many recent reforms in the Kingdom," the president of the state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) Awwad Alawwad told Reuters.

"This is a welcome change, but it should have happened years ago," said Adam Coogle, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. "There's nothing now standing in the way of Saudi Arabia reforming its unfair judicial system."