DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has authorized regional governors to approve executions by firing squad as an alternative to public beheading, the customary method of capital punishment in the Gulf Arab kingdom, the Arab News reported on Monday.
The English-language daily gave no explanation. But another newspaper, Al Youm, reporting the measure on Sunday, said the reason for the change was a shortage in the number of swordsmen.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said he was not immediately able to comment but would look into the report.
The Arab News added that a ministerial committee was looking into formally scrapping beheading as a form of execution.
The kingdom has been criticized in the West for its high number of executions, inconsistencies in the application of the law and its use of public beheadings.
Capital crimes resulting in the death sentence last year included murder, armed robbery, drug smuggling, sorcery and witchcraft.
Saudi Arabia has executed 17 people so far this year, Amnesty International said this month, compared to 82 in 2011 and a similar number last year.
In its Sunday edition, Al Youm reported a circular by the government’s Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution as saying the use of firing squads was being considered because some swordsmen were arriving late to the public squares where executions are normally carried out.
“A shortage in sworsdmen and their unavailability in a number of areas” meant the executioners had to travel sometimes long distances to get to the place of executions, making them sometimes late, the newspaper reported the circular as saying.
The circular stated that death by firing squad was not a breach of sharia, or Islamic law. The Saudi legal system is based on strict version of sharia.
Al Youm said a firing squad had been used to execute carried out the death sentence against a convicted female in a case in Ha‘il in northwestern Saudi Arabia a few years ago.
Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by William Maclean and Jon Hemming