Saudi Arabia Committed Mass Execution of 81 Detainees

According to Saudi Arabian agency Al-Anba, Riyadh executed 81 men, including 7 Yemenis and Syrians, after being charged of terrorism, while opposition Saudi media reported that local authorities executed 40 Qatif detainees, all at once.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that 3 Yemeni executed were convicted of “forming a terrorist group” of the Ansar Allah movement. There were also dozens of peaceful movement detainees who were arrested years ago during protests in the eastern region. This is considered to be the largest one-day execution by Riyadh in years.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the execution of 81 men by Saudi authorities on 12 March 2022 was the largest mass execution in the Kingdom in years, despite recent promises to limit the use of the death penalty. Given the widespread and systematic violations in the Saudi penal system, it is highly likely that none of the men received a fair trial.

Saudi activists told our organisation that 41 of them belonged to the country’s Shia Muslim minority, which has long suffered from systematic discrimination and violence by the government. Many Saudi Shiites serve lengthy sentences, are on death row or have already been executed for demonstrating after manifestly unfair trials.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Saudi authorities carried out on 22 March the death sentence against the 37 Saudis in five different regions, namely, Riyadh, Makkah, Medina, Qassim and Eastern, where the majority of the population is from the Shia minority. According to Human rights activists, Saudi Arabia carries out the majority of death sentences by sword decapitation, and the charges also include “stirring up sectarian discord,” a charge commonly used in cases of Shia minority activists. Saudi Arabia has thus executed at least 100 people in various cases since the beginning of this year, according to an AFP census based on official data published by the official news agency.

Mustafa Al-Darwish: Saudi man executed for crimes committed as a minor.

Among those who the death sentence was carried out against is a 26-year-old Shia youth, who was arrested years ago. Amnesty International denounced the sentence and its execution, regretting that this young man was “sentenced to death after a trial with serious defects,” and, on confessions under torture when he was “probably 17 years old” at the time of the events.

GRW denounced the executions, since “International human rights law strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty for persons under 18 at the time of the commission of the crime. According to the sources, “while in detention, he was held in solitary confinement separately from the outside world for six months, and was denied access to a lawyer until the commencement of his trial two years later, in violation of his right to a fair trial.

No fair trial and due process guarantees as required under international law.

Many human rights and UN organisations have repeatedly criticised widespread violations in the Saudi penal system, including systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including long-term arbitrary arrest and sporadic detention in isolation from the world. Saudi Arabia applies Islamic law as its national law. It does not have a clear formal penal code, but the government has issued some regulations that subject some widely known crimes to penal sanctions. In the absence of a clear written penal code, judges and prosecutors can convict persons for a range of offences under loose charges such as disobeying the ruler or trying to tarnish the reputation of the Kingdom.

Persons accused of crimes, including children, usually face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary detention. The GRW organisation for Human Rights and other rights organisations have documented the widespread violations of due process in the courts and the penal system against defendants in criminal cases.

These violations include lengthy periods of detention without charge or trial, lack of legal aid, forced confessions, acceptance of pre-established prison sentences to avoid prolonged arbitrary detention, and ineffective or harmful translation services for the accused. Human Rights Watch has also repeatedly criticised Saudi courts’ reliance on confessions of torture as the sole basis for conviction in some cases.

International condemnation of the mass execution crime

Implementing death sentences following trials that lacked the “fair trial guarantees” is prohibited by international human rights and humanitarian law and “may amount to a war crime,” the UN rights chief reminded, and she called on the Saudi authorities to halt all executions, immediately establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and commute the death sentences against those on death row.  

Global Rights Watch as well strongly condemn the recent mass execution of 81 people following trial that did not meet fair trial and due process guarantees as required under international law.

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