Saturday, June 07, 2003

Dateline: Saudi Arabia

Talkin' to the hangman...uh, head-chopper man

RIYADH (Reuters) - The leading executioner in Saudi Arabia, which implements strict Islamic sharia law, has no compunction about beheading convicts because it is "God's work."

"I sleep very well," Arab News daily quoted executioner Mohammed Saad al-Beshi as saying Thursday in a rare interview that offered an insight into a job that is much-criticized in the West and by human rights groups.

"It doesn't matter to me: two, four, 10. As long as I'm doing God's work, it doesn't matter how many people I execute."

Beshi's job is of prime importance in a kingdom that executes rapists, murderers, drug and alcohol smugglers, usually by beheading, and amputates the limbs of robbers.

So far this year, Saudi Arabia has executed at least seven people. At least 45 people were put to death in 2002, 75 people in 2001 and 121 people in 2000.

Arab News said the 42-year-old Saudi national started work in 1998 in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and would not reveal how much he gets paid or how many people he has executed so far.

Beshi is also proud of his sword, a gift from the government that he keeps razor sharp and cleans regularly from the blood stains. For amputations, he uses a special knife.

"People are amazed at how fast it can separate the head from the body," the father of seven boasted. "Sometimes they (his children) help me clean my sword."

Beshi is also entrusted with training executioners and has already started with his 22-year-old son. Asked if he thinks people are afraid of him, Beshi said: "No one is afraid of me. I have lots of relatives and many friends and I live a normal life. There are no drawbacks to my social life."