Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch:

Where are some Muslims getting the idea that violence against journalists who offend them is OK? Why do they see beheadings as a fitting punishment?

A good place to look for answers would be to examine Saudi Arabia’s policies of intolerance and extremism. King Abdullah, as the protector of Islam’s most sacred religious sites and leader of Saudi Arabia, is widely considered an important role model for Muslims around the world. So it should not come as a surprise that many Muslims take their cues from the country on the prohibitions and punishments they consider appropriate to inflict on those who challenge or disagree with their interpretations of Islam.

Saudi Arabia gave a good indication of its position on appropriate punishments last Friday, when it carried out Round 1 of a public flogging — 50 lashes — against Raif Badawi, a young blogger, in front of the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah. A Saudi court had fined Badawi and sentenced him in 2014 to 1,000 lashes over 20 sessions and to 10 years in prison for the crime of “insulting Islam” — in part for setting up a liberal website to debate various topics, including religion….

So is it really any surprise that extremist groups — also acting in the name of Islam — seem to be following Saudi’s lead, meting out their own severe punishments against journalists and activists they find offensive? If Saudi Arabia thinks publicly beheading people comports with Islamic religious teachings and deters those who also might want to criticize them or question their religion, why shouldn’t ISIS?

One might argue that a nation, unlike some self-designated Islamic Caliphate, has the legitimacy and authority to exercise state-sponsored violence, including against its own citizens. But countries also have obligations to respect human rights. Saudi Arabia’s abusive prosecutions and cruel punishments flout these obligations, and undermine its own legitimacy.

Read Whitson’s full piece here.

Previously on Harris Online…