Thirty-seven people have been executed in Saudi Arabia for what the authorities insisted were “terrorism” related offences, including adopting “extremist, terrorist ideology”. Of those executed, 33 belonged to the Sunni Kingdom’s minority Shia community.
A statement by the official Saudi Press Agency announcing the executions said that the men were killed for “forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disturb security, spread chaos and cause sectarian discord.” Some of the men were accused of “cooperating with hostile parties in a way that damaged the high interests of the homeland.” Others were said to have been involved in bomb attacks on security headquarters that killed Saudi officials.
The sentences were carried out in various locations around the Kingdom including Riyadh, Makkah and Madinah, and the Eastern Province which is home to Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority. It was reported that two of the bodies were nailed to a post in a public location for several hours in a “crucifixion” that is not used very often by the Saudi authorities. This was highly controversial given the grisly nature of the display, reported Al Jazeera.
Reprieve, a human rights organisation which campaigns against the death penalty, said that at least three of those executed were minors at the time of their alleged offences. Their execution was denounced as a “flagrant violation of international law, which prohibits sentencing juveniles to death.”
As minors, explained Reprieve, the three were charged with various offences including participating in demonstrations, incitement via social media and preparing banners with anti-state slogans. Many of those executed, including the minors, were allegedly tortured into signing confessions.
A report in the New York Times, which raised “serious concerns” about the trials, said that 11 of the executed men had been arrested in 2013 charged with spying for Iran. They had been detained for two or more years before their trial began, and some of their lawyers boycotted the proceedings after being denied access to their clients and the case files. Fourteen others had been arrested in connection with protests against the Saudi authorities around 2012, which occasionally are said to have escalated into violence.
Citing Adam Coogle, who monitors Saudi Arabia for Human Rights Watch, the NYT reported that some of the convictions were based on confessions that the accused later withdrew in court because, they said, they had been obtained through torture.
Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty has been criticised widely. While the rate of executions in the Kingdom is not as high as China or Iran, Riyadh has been accused by Amnesty International of systematically using the death penalty to crush opposition figures and movements.