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Judicial CP - December 2006

Corpun file 18745

Arab News, Jeddah/Riyadh/Dhahran, 28 December 2006

Crime and Punishment: Who Deserves What and Where?

By Abeer Mishkhas

Officials at the Ministry of Justice are discussing the possibility of replacing prison sentences with other types of punishments such as community service or disciplinary courses.

According to the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the studies coincide with two rulings in Al Moueih where two teenagers were sentenced to community service for violating the law, one for stealing and the other one for drinking alcohol. The paper added that the original sentence in those two cases was 8 months imprisonment and 100 lashes, which was replaced by community service. The two offenders will now have to clean 26 mosques in the region and work as volunteers for charities.

That ruling strikes one as innovative and logical and it actually makes more sense than the regular punishment, especially in the case of teenagers, who need more discipline and to be more committed to their communities. The mere idea that the Ministry of Justice is studying alternative punishments is a clear indicator that we do need to change the way we look at crimes and social offenses. And it opens a door to thinking more deeply about sentences and whether they actually serve their purpose and serve society as well, or if they only depend on one point of view and one narrow interpretation of the law.

However, before we get carried away by one positive piece of news, another news item in Al-Watan newspaper slaps us back to reality.

I will write exactly what came in the news item: "The authorities in Taif carried out a lashing sentence yesterday against a pediatrician who works in King Abdul Aziz Specialist Hospital in front of a crowd of doctors and hospital workers. The doctor, a non-Saudi, was found guilty of harassing a female doctor and of harming her reputation. Sources told Al-Watan that the doctor reported her colleague to the authorities and that a sentence was issued stating that he would be punished in public in front of his colleagues and deported after that. The hospital's administration invited all workers to witness the punishment, which was to take place for the first time in a government building."

Thus ended the news item and with this we start wondering, hopefully not in vain, about the circumstances of this incident.

But to take it one-step at a time, if the doctor was found guilty, the usual punishment is to terminate his contract, and secondly, does "harming the reputation" require such severe punishment? And furthermore, if the sentence is just, why did it have to take place in a hospital in front of medical staff? Is it not humiliating enough for the doctor to be sentenced in the first place? Do we have to take it that level?

The charges seem quite vague, what did the offender exactly do to his colleague to merit the punishment? And I have to wonder about the hospital's administration that invited the workers to see the humiliation of a staff member.

How is that compatible with the medical profession? Where is their solidarity and compassion? Well, obviously, we will be asking these questions forever.

And my final question, that I confess is more than scary, is how have government buildings and workplaces suddenly become courts and maybe will be turned into detention centers and prisons in the future? Are we going to live to see the day when a trip to the office also means visiting prisoners and checking out offending colleagues?

Copyright: Arab News 2003 All rights reserved.

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