THE bodies of four Sri Lankans beheaded in Saudi Arabia have gone on public display, in what was said to be an effort to halt a rise in crime committed by foreigners.
The gang were executed on Monday at a public square in a busy market district of the capital, Riyadh. Although no-one was killed in the series of robberies for which they were convicted, local media said the men were given the death sentence because of the organised nature of the violent hold-ups, raising fears of foreign mafia-style gangs.
The al-Riyadh newspaper reported that the men had been "crucified" - tied to wooden beams after beheading - as part of moves to deter other foreigners from crime. "There is a pressing need to review many of the negative practices of foreigners in the kingdom," al-Riyadh quoted Abdel-Rahman al-Luweiheq, who teaches at the Imam bin Saud University, as saying.
A spokesman for the Sri Lankan embassy expressed shock that the sentence had been carried out, despite appeals to spare the men.
"We are shocked - we never expected any of this," he said. "We made an appeal asking for clemency."
Human rights groups have often accused the Saudis of applying draconian and arbitrary justice, beheading murderers, rapists and drug traffickers in public by the sword. The desert kingdom, home to Islam's holiest shrines, says it applies strict Islamic law.
Almost a third of the 24 million population are foreigners, mostly blue-collar workers from Asia. Most are tied to Saudi employers, who usually take their passports as a way of controlling their movements.