Saudi Arabia executes prince for murder over death of friend

RIYADH (AFP/REUTERS/NYTIMES) - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday (Oct 18) executed a member of the royal family for murder, in a rare case involving one of the thousands of members of the House of Saud.

Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir was put to death in the capital Riyadh after pleading guilty to shooting dead Adel Al-Muhaimeed, a fellow Saudi, during a brawl, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

"The government... is keen to keep order, stabilise security and bring about justice through implementing the rules prescribed by Allah...," said the ministry statement.

Prince Kabir was the 134th local or foreigner put to death this year, according to an AFP tally of ministry statements.

The Arab News reported in November 2014 that a court in Riyadh had sentenced a prince to death for killing his friend. Although it did not name the prince, it named the friend as Adel Al-Muhaimeed.

Mr Al-Muhaimeed lost his life and another person was injured in an exchange of gunfire following a dispute at a camp on the edge of Riyadh in December 2012, the newspaper said.

Desert camps are popular gathering places for Saudis.

When the killer realised that his victim was a friend and colleague, he informed the police, the Arab News said.

The sentence reflected the kingdom's "fair justice system", Arab News quoted the victim's uncle Abdul Rahman al-Falaj as saying.

Most people put to death in Saudi Arabia are beheaded with a sword in a public square.

Members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are only rarely known to have been executed.

One of the most prominent cases was Faisal bin Musaid al Saud, who assassinated his uncle, King Faisal, in 1975.

The rare event rocketed around the Kingdom's social media networks, with some Saudis saying they never imagined such a thing would happen and others arguing that it showed the quality of their justice system, which is often criticised by human rights groups and Western governments for what they consider harsh and arbitrary punishments.

"The greatest thing is that the citizen sees the law applied to everyone, and that there are not big people and other small people," Mr Abdul-Rahman al-Lahim, a prominent Saudi lawyer, wrote on Twitter.

Other Saudis lauded the monarch, King Salman, on Twitter under an Arabic hashtag that translated as "decisive Salman orders retribution for the prince".

The Saudi family is estimated to number several thousand. While members receive monthly stipends, and the most senior princes command great wealth and political power, only a few in the family hold nationally important government posts. Saudi Arabia has a strict Islamic legal code under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy are all punishable by death.

Amnesty International says the kingdom carried out at least 158 death sentences in 2015, making it the third most prolific executioner after Iran and Pakistan.

Amnesty's figures do not include secretive China.

Murder and drug trafficking cases account for the majority of Saudi executions, although 47 people were put to death for "terrorism" on a single day in January.

Rights experts have raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom but the government says the death penalty is a deterrent.