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Saudi court orders man to be paralyzed as an Islamic punishment

A young Saudi man faces being forcibly paralyzed as a punishment under Islamic sharia law for a crime that left his victim confined to a wheelchair – a ruling condemned by a human rights group Thursday.

Ali al-Khawaher, 24, was convicted of stabbing a childhood friend in the spine during a dispute a decade ago, according to reports in Saudi Arabian media including Al Hayat and Al Watan (link in Arabic).

Under sharia law, courts may set an eye-for-an-eye punishment for crimes – but victims may pardon convicts in exchange for so-called blood money.

In this case, the victim requested $533,000 – an amount he later reduced to $266,000 – but al-Khawaher’s mother told Al Hayat she did not have even a fraction of this money, meaning the court can issue an order for retribution instead.

Although the stabbing happened in 2003, the court order was only issued on Saturday.

“Ten years have passed with hundreds of sleepless nights,” Al Hayat quoted al-Khawaher's mother as saying. “My hair has become grey at a young age because of my son’s problem. I have been frightened to death whenever I think about my son’s fate and that he will have to be paralyzed.”

Amnesty International condemned the punishment.

“Paralyzing someone as punishment for a crime would be torture,” said Ann Harrison, the organization’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

“That such a punishment might be implemented is utterly shocking, even in a context where flogging is frequently imposed as a punishment for some offences, as happens in Saudi Arabia," she added. “It is time the authorities in Saudi Arabia start respecting their international legal obligations and remove these terrible punishments from the law.”

Saudi judges have in the past ordered sharia punishments that include tooth extraction, flogging, eye gouging and -- in murder cases -- death, Reuters reported.

U.K. Islamic commentator Ajmal Masroor told the U.K.'s Sky News channel that even most Muslims would be “startled” by the court ruling, adding: "I cannot fathom where they would find a doctor willing to carry out such an act."

NBC News' Lubna Hussain contributed to this report.

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