This week, a Qatar court convicted a Syrian man on charges of drinking alcohol and having illicit consensual sex.
Omar Abdullah Al-Hassan was ordered to receive 40 lashes for the first charge, and 100 lashes for the second. The Dutch woman he apparently had sex with was fined, given a suspended jail sentence and deported to her home country.
The ruling sparked many questions about flogging in Qatar. Here’s some more information on the subject:
Lashings are only for Muslims
For certain charges, Qatar’s court applies sharia law to Muslims and secular law to non-Muslims.
According to Dr. Najeeb al-Nuaimi, Qatar’s former minister of justice, there used to be two separate courts here – a secular one and an Islamic one that dealt with sharia-related punishments like sex outside of marriage and consuming alcohol.
But during his time as minister, al-Nuaimi united the courts so that criminal courts can hand down sharia punishments such as this one.
However, Qatar only selectively applies sharia-related corporal punishments. For example, it does not sentence people to lose their fingers or hands for stealing, as was the case 1,500 years ago.
Al-Nuaimi said this is because many Islamic schools of thought did away with such punishments centuries ago after taking into account social conditions, such as people stealing food because they were poor or hungry.
He added that he believes flogging should be abolished because jail time is just as effective a deterrent against many crimes, and human rights need to be taken into consideration during modern times.
A person has to be physically able to handle the punishment
According to the judge who handed down the sentence this week, the defendant will need to undergo a medical exam to ensure he can handle the lashings.
If the person says they have a heart condition, or other ailment that could lead to them dying if they were flogged, they have to be seen by a doctor, al-Nuaimi said. If a doctor advises against the punishment, it will be replaced by something else.
An exam would be particularly important in Al-Hassan’s case, as he faces 140 lashes and Qatar usually carries out the sentence in one go.
This is different from, for example, Saudi Arabia, which planned to space out the 1,000 lashes it sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to serve for “insulting Islam.”
But after the first session of 50 lashes, the country bowed to international pressure and has postponed his punishment indefinitely.
In the case of Al-Hassan, al-Nuaimi speculated that he may be flogged in two sessions, as he was sentenced for two different crimes.
Flogging is a relatively common sentence here
It is not unusual for a Muslim to be sentenced to lashing for offenses such as drinking alcohol. According to Qatar’s legal law portal Al Meezan, other sharia offenses include:
- Drinking alcohol; and
However, not all of them can be punished via flogging as most involve jail time and fines. Additionally, it remains unclear how often lashing sentences are actually meted out.
According to al-Nuaimi, carrying out the punishment is like putting someone in jail. It doesn’t require prior approval from the Emir, as the death penalty does.
According to human rights groups, there’s been a decade-long moratorium on executions in Qatar. Al-Nuaimi said this is because neither the Emir or Father Emir have signed off on carrying them out.
Defendants can keep their clothes on
Like in Saudi Arabia, those who are flogged in Qatar are allowed to keep their shirts or thobes on, according to al-Nuaimi.
This means that lashes would still cause severe bruising, but likely not break the skin, a doctor who spoke to the Telegraph in the Al Badawi case said.
However, al-Nuaimi said that in Qatar, the person who carries out the sentence is “very experienced in not raising their arms too high up so the lash is not too severe when the whip comes across the person’s body.”
“If they can’t control themselves, they have to keep something in their armpit like a book to make sure that they can’t raise their arms too high and the lashes are not too severe.”