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Saudi Arabia executed record number of people in 2019, report finds

Despite guarantees from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to reduce the number of state killings...

Saudi Arabia has been found to have executed its highest recorded number of prisoners last year, despite guarantees from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to reduce the number of state killings.

According to a report released by the legal charity Reprieve, 184 people were executed in the kingdom in 2019, including 90 foreign nationals. It is alleged that 82 were executed on the charges of smuggling narcotics and 57 for committing murder.

The number marks a significant increase of capital punishments as compared to the last few years. The statistics collected have revealed that in the 2014, the number of executions amounted to 88, and almost doubled to 157 the next year. Thirty-five were recorded in 2018. Two weeks into 2020, four people have already been executed, Reprieve added.

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The staggering statistic comes amid increased criticism of the tactics used by Bin Salman to quash dissent of the last few years. On 23 April last year, 37 people were executed within a single day, including a Saudi college student who was about to study in the US, resulting in outrage both internationally and from members of the US Congress such as Representative Rashida Tlaib.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib delivers a speech at the event that was held by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington DC, United States on 10 January, 2019 [Safvan Allahverdi/Anadolu Agency]

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib delivers a speech in Washington DC, US on 10 January 2019 [Safvan Allahverdi/Anadolu Agency]

The UK-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has previously reported that Saudi Arabia was even targeting and sentencing minors to death, a crime under international law. The organisation also alleged that torture was being used on prisoners to make them falsely confess to crimes in order to execute them. The sentences were based on “sham trials that violated international fair trial standards which relied on confessions extracted through torture,” it reported.

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The number of prisoners currently on death row in the kingdom are unknown, but those in line to be executed include Ali Al-Nimr who was 17 years old when he was arrested, Abdullah Al-Zaher who was detained at the age of 15, and Dawood Al-Marhoon, arrested at 17, all of whom were convicted for allegedly joining anti-government protests in 2011.

Director of Reprieve, Maya Foa, called on the UK and the US to condemn and criticise the executions in the “strongest possible terms”, as global pressure could “make a difference”, particularly as they are two of the most prominent allies of the Gulf monarchy.

Talking to US-based ABC News today, Foa stated that “Saudi Arabia’s rulers clearly believe they have impunity to flout international law…International pressure can make a difference, as the case of Murtaja Qureiris showed last year. Saudi prosecutors wanted to sentence Murtaja to death for attending pro-democracy protests when he was 13 years old, but backed down following a worldwide outcry.”

Such statistics of increased executions come despite the pledge given by Bin Salman in an interview with Time magazine in 2018 to “minimise” the use of the death penalty and limit it to certain special cases.

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