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Op-Ed: Saudi justice in the news again

By Alexander Baron     Nov 11, 2012 in Crime
Riyad - A foreign national is facing execution in Saudi Arabia unless someone comes up with 'blood money' PDQ. Where have we heard this before?
The case of Joselito Zapanta has been fairly widely reported of late, although not so at the time he was convicted of the murder of his landlord. It would be fair to say this reporting has been largely sympathetic, with the implication that the punishment he is set to face - death by beheading - is totally unwarranted. It is of course possible to argue against capital punishment without considering the guilt or innocence of an accused in this or in any particular case. In the United States for example, a serial killer may be sentenced to life imprisonment while a man convicted of one murder may be executed, usually after a considerable delay.
Saudi justice is of course Islamic justice, indeed, of all Islamic countries, Saudi Arabia has what might be termed the purest form of Shari'a. Some reliable information about Saudi criminal procedure with particular reference to the rights of the accused can be found here.
Although by Western standards the punishments meted out to the guilty are or can be extreme, no jurist of reason could claim the judicial process is unfair. It is clear that especially in serious cases the burden of proof is high.
Severe though Shari'a law can be, it has one facet which most Westerners would consider to be totally unacceptable under any system, this is the payment of blood money which is not compensation paid to the family of a victim in addition to punishment but compensation paid in lieu of punishment. If the blood money - diya - demanded by the family of his victim is raised, Joselito Zapanta will walk free not simply from execution but from any form of punishment, bar the time he has already served.
As with many such capital cases, like for example the Terry Williams and Linda Carty cases in the United States, the perpetrator is being portrayed as the victim, thus we are told that "there are many witnesses to attest that Joselito did not plan the killing of the Sudanese, but he accidentally killed him as self-defense." And "Sudanese Saleh Imam Ibrahim, demanded his rent before it was due and beat him".
There appears to be little information about the actual case available, most commentators are simply parroting a press release or e-mail by an interested party, but an article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer brings a little more objectivity to the story than most.
From this source we learn among other things that Zapanta killed Ibrahim with a hammer.
Assuming the Saudi court was prepared to accept that he killed a man with a hammer accidentally, would it also accept that he took (read stole) the victim’s mobile phone and SAR3,000 accidentally?
At this time, SAR3,000 is worth exactly $800 which is worth £503.12 in turn. Last year in London it was reported that a teenage hit man murdered a stranger for £200. Life is indeed cheap, except when a man has to pay with it for his own life.
Furthermore, Joselito Zapanta did not act alone, he had what appears to be an accomplice after the fact. Filipino worker Karen Manalo received the stolen mobile phone. She has already served her sentence, such is Saudi justice. No one should have any objection to Zapanta's government making representations to the Saudi king, but if this blood money is paid, a murderer will be freed. Does anyone remember the last time that happened?
In 1995, Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford was working in Saudi. After she was found beaten and stabbed to death, the police arrested two British nurses on suspicion of her murder.
Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan confessed to the killing; Parry was sentenced to death; McLauchlan to 500 lashes and 8 years in gaol. In May 1998, the King commuted their sentences after the victim's brother accepted £832,000 blood money under public pressure, although he never kept any of this money for himself. On their return to the UK, Parry and McLauchlan explained away their confessions with all the usual stories of police brutality - stories that are certainly credible for anyone who has had any contact with the British or American police at the business end.
Even while they were in Saudi though it emerged that McLauchlan was not the kind of girl a patient of Lewisham Hospital would want emptying his bedpan, because when she left the UK for Saudi, she was facing criminal charges, and was convicted of them on her return. Four years ago she was declared bankrupt, and in the past two years she has been convicted of both on-line fraud and shoplifting. She has of course long been struck off the nursing register.
It was McLauchlan who was first implicated in the murder; she was caught red-handed by the police emptying the victim's bank account; it was her confession that implicated Parry. Some have suggested that she alone was responsible for the murder, one scenario being that Gilford interrupted her as McLauchlan was looting her apartment, and paid the price. One person who is not impressed with that explanation is George Galloway, who travelled to Saudi Arabia to conduct his own investigation. Galloway says Elvis may be on the Moon aboard a double decker bus, but as far as he is concerned, both women are guilty.
Of course, none of the above means Joselito Zapanta is guilty of murder, but his conviction under Saudi law does. People should bear that in mind before they flock to his cause at the behest of those who, like Clive Stafford Smith and many others, are often motivated by considerations that have very little to do with either justice or the facts
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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