The Sunday Telegraph’s Jamie Pandaram discusses how the 1995 Olyroos witnessed eight beheadings in the streets of Saudi Arabia ahead of their match.
His witness statement that they saw ‘8-12 prisoners’ lined up waiting to be beheaded, and that these executions were ‘daily occurrances in Saudi Arabia’, confirms an older report we published about two years ago, where we quoted a Saudi executioner that a minimum 7 executions are made each day of the week, per executioner. Meaning one Saudi executioner kills over 2,500 people per year. A far cry from Amnesty’s “80 people per year” claim. A mere 100 executioners would bring the volume of cut heads per year to 250,000. We have long wondered why the Saudi female population percentage suddenly drop drastically when they are in the prime of their life causing an imbalance in the male/female ratio.
Saudi Arabia had such a huge backlog of executions two years ago they were advertising to hire many more and considered to add firing sqauds to fill the gap. The job of an executioner is given to “dirty” or “low” people in society – which in Saudi terms usually means a black Saudi.
You can listen to the interview in the podcast link below.
1995 Olyroos team on tour stumble on public beheading ceremony in Saudi Arabia town square
JAMIE PANDARAM, The Sunday Telegraph
September 24, 2016 8:00pm
IT’S THE image that never leaves you. Mark Babic, the former Olyroos and Socceroos defender, is recounting one of the most horrific incidents seen by an Australian sporting side.
Twenty-one years later, the shimmer of the razor-sharp sword glistening in the sun, the eight men kneeling with heads bowed, the swiftness of the executioner’s strike, the heads rolling away, are as vivid now as that hot August day in Taif, Saudi Arabia.
The Olyroos were playing a friendly there in 1995 as part of their Atlanta Olympics campaign, and on a day off many players decided to explore the streets.
Inadvertently, they stumbled upon the public beheading ceremony in the town square, a common practice under Saudi Arabia’s sharia law system.
1995 Olyroos tour of Saudi Arabia.
The 1995 team in Saudi Arabia.
Babic was vice-captain of the team. Captain Kevin Muscat was not at the arena, but 13 Olyroos squad members witnessed the executions first-hand.
On the eve of the Socceroos’ trip to Saudi Arabia for next week’s top-of-the-table match in the 2018 World Cup Asian qualifiers, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal the full details of the barbaric event after two decades of silence from squad members.
Babic said the players were keen to see the sights of the town when suddenly there was commotion around a circular arena with a see-through fence.
Goran Lozanovski demonstrates what the team saw in Saudi Arabia.
“We noticed there was a build-up of police around the actual ring, to our amazement the crowd started to build up,” he said.
“We asked the hotel guide what was occurring, and he indicated to us that he presumed there would be some beheadings, on the basis that they wouldn’t publicly announce any particular type of punishment but as there was a police build-up that indicated to a lot of people around that something was going to occur.
“Out of curiosity with our teammates we said we’ll take a backward step and see what’s going to occur.
“We waited, and five minutes later there was a van, we could hear the siren coming between all the buildings, and it was a police van that was making its way through with a police escort.
“They opened the gate and it came directly on the asphalt. An executioner who was dressed
completely in white, in total contrast to everyone else who was dressed in black, walked out.
“At this stage there was probably a crowd of 3000 to 4000 people circled around the ring.
“He walked around the ring, placed seven mats on the tarmac, went back to the van, reached for a sword, raised the sword in the air and every time he raised the sword in the air there was a massive cheer around the arena.
1995 Olyroos tour of Saudi Arabia.
“It really jumped out at us, we were a bit shell-shocked in a way that it was occurring.
“It was when he raised the sword that it hit home, and we looked at each other and said ‘Do we really need to look at this?’ We all turned to each other and said ‘yeah’, out of curiosity let’s see if it does occur. Five minutes later they escorted a prisoner who had his hands handcuffed behind his back, a male figure, who had a balaclava over his head.
“They placed him on his knees on one of the mats.
“They brought out an additional figure and placed him around the arena, and there was probably a total of eight prisoners positioned kneeling down with their heads swayed forward.
“The tour guide told us they were potentially trafficking drugs and this is an eye-for-an-eye, he indicated that they sedate the prisoners leading up to the point of execution.
“So when the prisoners were set up on the mat, the executioner did another round with the sword raised again, which led to a huge roar of applause.
“We were positioned within this crowd trying to get an angle between the fence trying to see what was going to occur, we were positioned quite perfectly.
“He walked up to the first prisoner, positioned the sword directly on the back of the prisoner’s neck, raised it slowly, and as he raised it into the air there was a massive roar again, and then he swiftly came down.
“It was quite traumatic watching it, you could see the body fall forward and then the head roll.
“He walked over to the second prisoner, did the same procedure, placed the sword right on the neck, a clean cut through.
“Every time he did that, there was a massive roar within the crowd. We got to the last prisoner, and as he went to position the sword, he lifted it and came down, but it wasn’t actually a clear cut.
Saudi Arabia death row inmates beheaded and crucified. Picture: Amnesty International
“So he needed to come down another two times to clean the head off.”
Dressed in their team tracksuits, the players were too shaken to attempt to take photos of the executions and quickly left, but Babic captured pictures from the safety of the team bus 100m away, showing the mass of people clambering on walls and fences to see the grotesque aftermath of brutal justice Saudi style.
It was when they were all back in their bus that the reality of the horror they had witnessed set in.
“We were quite overwhelmed with this, thinking it’s quite amazing we’ve been exposed to it. It was just a walk into the town centre,” he said.
We felt sickened by what we saw. But at the same time we realised that this was potentially a daily occurrence in Saudi Arabia.”
Back at their hotel, some players were so sickened they could not stomach lunch.
“There were a couple of players who lost their appetite for obvious reasons,” Babic said.
Played: August 17, 1995
Score: Saudi Arabia 3 – 0 Australia
Saudi Arabia team: (lineup unknown)
Frank Juric, Kevin Muscat, Sean Cranney, Luke Casserley, Mark Babic (Mike Valkanis), Ante Moric, Joe Bacak (Brad Hassell), Peter Tsekenis, Gabriel Mendez (Goran Lozanovski), Joe Spiteri, Danny Tiatto
With no internet or camera phones in those days, squad member Goran Lozanovski posed up for a photo as the executioner holding a sword above a kneeling teammate, to later show family and friends exactly what they had seen.
It was an excruciating experience for all the players, but they still had a game to play three days later.
“I did have an insight that a couple of them found it difficult to sleep,” Babic said.
“We felt we were dealt a situation that played on our minds.”
And then, when they did arrive at King Fahad Sports City Stadium for their match, the Olyroos were confronted with an eerie sight.
“It was quite odd, we were expecting a crowd,” he said.
“It was televised throughout the country, as we got closer to the game we realised there was no crowd at all and the indication was from our coaching staff that the game was being televised live through Saudi Arabia but in particular the king.
“There were a couple of remarks there, of if we won, what would be the consequences of that.
“That’s no disrespect to Saudi Arabia. It does cross your mind.”
A “lethargic” Olyroos side lost the match 3-0, but would later defeat Saudi Arabia at the 1996 Olympics.
Scenes on another occasion of beheading execution in Saudi Arabia.
While viewing the executions was traumatic for all involved, Babic said the squad members have been able to speak about it privately together in the years since.
“This is one we’ve openly had a chat about,” he said.
“The important aspect is that we feel like we’ve shared that together as a group, it’s something that when you’re experiencing and not realising how traumatic it is, but we were tight-knit and professional in the way we focused on the game, but deep down we knew it did affect us.
“The image never leaves you. When I look back on it now 20 years on, I think ‘wow’, it’s as clear as when I saw it there.”
Public beheadings have always been a part of the Saudi judicial system but are more common now than ever before.
Last year there were more than 157 street executions in the country, the most recorded since the Olyroos’ visit.
Football Federation Australia does not publicly discuss their security arrangements for tours, but did confirm that like many of their recent overseas assignments there will be no time for days off in Saudi Arabia on their looming trip.
[Former Socceroo Mark Babic on Saudi Arabia]