Britain urges Saudi Arabia not to paralyse convict

Setting up a mock gallows with a dummy on a rope, about 25 Lebanese human rights activists protest outside the Saudi embassy in Beirut on April 1, 2010 against capital punishment as Lebanon's envoy to Riyadh said he has yet to be informed of a Saudi decision to behead a Lebanese former TV presenter convicted of sorcery. The United Nations says Saudi Arabia has seen a sharp rise in executions in 2011.

Britain on Thursday urged Saudi Arabia not to carry out the "grotesque" punishment of paralysis for a man whose alleged crime took place when he was just 14 years old.

Ali al-Khawahir, 24, has reportedly been sentenced to "Qisas" (retribution) for allegedly paralysing a friend when he stabbed him in the back 10 years ago.

He could be paralysed from the waist down if he fails to pay compensation of one million riyals ($270,000), rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday citing Saudi media reports.

Britain's Foreign Office said it was deeply concerned by the reports.

"We urge the Saudi authorities to ensure that this grotesque punishment is not carried out," a spokesman said.

"Such practices are prohibited under international law and have no place in any society."

Amnesty said paralysis as punishment would be akin to torture.

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"It is time the authorities in Saudi Arabia start respecting their international legal obligations and remove these terrible punishments from the law," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The rights body said a similar sentence of paralysis was given in Saudi Arabia in 2010, but that it was unknown whether it had been carried out.

The ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom imposes several forms of corporal punishment attributed to Islamic sharia law, ranging from flogging to amputation and beheading.