A new report launched yesterday at the House of Commons in London urges world leaders to boycott the next G20 summit in Riyadh in protest against an “alarming spike” in executions in Saudi Arabia. The report, by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and titled A Perverse and Ominous Enterprise; The Death Penalty and Illegal Executions in Saudi Arabia, found that the death penalty is increasingly being used by the Saudi authorities to stifle all opposition to the repressive regime.
According to Kennedy, who is a barrister and Labour Party member of the House of Lords, the authorities in the Kingdom have carried out at least 134 executions so far this year. With 149 executions recorded in 2018, if the rate of those whose death sentence is carried out continues at this rate, the final figure for 2019 is expected to exceed all previous recorded totals by a significant number.
Of those executed this year, 37 are said to have been political activists killed on 23 April following lengthy periods of detention in which they were kept in solitary confinement and subjected to torture before and after “grossly unfair trials”. At least six people executed in 2019 were children at the time of their arrest and three more children are said to be still at risk of being killed. Kennedy notes that this is a clear violation of international law.
Citing Saudi Arabia’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its brutal military campaign in Yemen — creating what the UN says is the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War — the barrister explained that the spike in executions by Riyadh is part of a broader campaign to suppress opposition. Hence, it should be viewed in the context of “systemic and egregious human rights violations, including the widespread use of arbitrary arrest and detention.”
Kennedy discovered what she described were “deeply disturbing themes” relating to the executions. “A significant proportion of those executed were political dissidents, and a number were children at the time of their alleged offending. Three were women. Many were arraigned on ill-defined charges of ‘espionage’ and ‘terrorism’.” She denounced these practices as a “grave violation of international human rights norms.”
The report’s author also highlighted the detention of prominent activists and clerics facing execution. These individuals include Salman Al-Awda, Awad Al-Qerni and Hassan Farhan Al-Maliki, as well as Ali Al-Omari, a television presenter and writer who has used his programmes to support women’s rights. According to Kennedy, “They were among the victims of a ‘wave’ of arrests of at least 60 political activists which took place in September 2017.”
Their cases, she pointed out, are particularly striking as they, amongst others, are being singled out for execution for speaking out against the Saudi government and highlighting human rights abuses being perpetrated in the kingdom. “Execution of any of these 24 people would amount to a flagrant violation of international human rights norms, and must be prevented at all costs.”
The report calls on the Saudi authorities to “immediately declare an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition.” It also urges the convening of an international fact-finding mission by an independent and politically neutral organisation.
Kennedy’s report has been communicated to relevant international actors, including the EU Parliament, and nine separate Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council. It recommends the use of targeted sanctions against Saudi Arabia and encourages members of the G20 to refuse to attend the 2020 summit in Riyadh.