A public execution is a form of capital punishment which "members of the general public may voluntarily attend." This definition excludes the presence of a small number of witnesses randomly selected to assure executive accountability. The purpose of such displays has historically been to deter individuals from defying laws or authorities. Attendance at such events was historically encouraged and sometimes even mandatory.
While today most countries regard public executions with distaste, in the past they were preferred to executions behind closed doors because of their capacity for deterrence. They also allowed the convicted the opportunity to make a final speech, gave the state the chance to display its power in front of those who fell under its jurisdiction, and granted the public what was considered to be a great spectacle. Public executions also permitted the state to project its superiority over political opponents. Thus, when Charles I of England was beheaded, the reduced height of the block meant that he could not assume the normal kneeling pose, but was forced to lie in a face-down position considered to be especially humiliating.
In 1993, Amnesty International reported that public executions in Saudi Arabia have reached "shocking proportions" in the past year, with a fourfold increase to 105 in the number of people being beheaded publically. The executions often followed grossly unfair trials. One Shi'ite Muslim was beheaded after being convicted of blasphemy and renouncing his faith. He was arrested for throwing stones three years before his execution, and was reportedly tortured and held in solitary confinement for long periods.