Deera Square in Central Riyadh, the location of most of the executions in the city. Photo: BroadArrow/Wikimedia
Former Austrian justice minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner, herself a judge, is also deputy director of a Saudi-funded centre in Vienna for fostering inter-religious dialogue.
According to a report from Bloomberg, the Austrian judiciary may be considering disciplinary action against Bandion-Ortner for comments she made in an interview with Profil magazine, in which she dismissed criticism of Saudi Arabia's egregious record of judicial executions as "nonsense."
A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry, Dagmar Albegger, told Bloomberg that Bandion-Ortner "may have violated her obligations as a member of the judiciary with [her] comments."
Bandion-Ortner is on leave from her position as a judge while she works for the tax-exempt Saudi NGO based in Vienna, known as the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. She was named justice minister in 2009 by the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP).
When asked about the executions, she said “That’s not every Friday, that’s nonsense. But whatever, I’m against it anyway.”
She also compared the abaya -- the garment that Saudi women are forced to wear -- to a judge's gown.
The remarks were seen as downplaying capital punishment, which was abolished in Austria in 1950, and which is outlawed within the EU.
Claudia Bandion-Ortner, Deputy Secretary-General of the KAAIC.
Bandion-Ortner “stated that she was expressing her own opinion and the subsequent clarification of her statement was issued on her own behalf,” Peter Kaiser, a spokesman for the King Abdullah Centre, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The center “rejects all violence,” he said.
Austria’s nationalist Freedom Party, which polls show will challenge the ruling coalition in the next election, wants the government to end the treaty with Saudi Arabia that grants the center its tax-exempt status.
Austria’s Green Party wants a parliamentary enquiry while Vienna’s Lesbian and Gay Alliance called Bandion-Ortner’s interview a “moral low point.”
On Wednesday, the Secretary General of Amnesty International (AI) Austria, Heinz Patzelt, called for "effective measures" against the Saudi-funded institution.
A center which allows its top representative in Austria "to in such a way play down such serious human rights violations in the area of capital punishment and discrimination against women", loses any legitimacy to contribute to a better world and human rights reforms said Patzelt.
"In any event the Austrian Federal Government should terminate any legal privileges of this club," demanded the Amnesty representative.
"When there is an increasing human rights violation of the barbaric death penalty, it is the public display and humiliation of the victim before the assembled people. Precisely this happens in Saudi Arabia especially after Friday prayers," says Patzelt.
According to Amnesty International in 2013 at least 79 death sentences were carried out in Saudi Arabia, of whom nearly half were foreigners.
The beheading of Izzat Gul for drug trafficking was Saudi Arabia's 46th such execution for 2014, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). In August alone, Saudi Arabia decapitated 19 people
, eight of them for nonviolent offenses, including sorcery, the rights group added.