Relatives of prisoners sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia fear the sentence will be executed against them at any moment, as the Kingdom accelerates the implementation of death sentences on the background of murder cases, attempted drug smuggling and terrorism charges.
Twenty-four people have been executed since early October, 18 of them in the past two weeks. These include 16 people convicted of drug-related offences, ending a moratorium on death penalty for such offenses, announced in January 2021.
On Wednesday, the United Nations condemned the escalation of executions, specifically those related to drug crimes, describing it as a “very regrettable step” and “contradicting international norms and standards”.
Duaa Dahini, a researcher at the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, said Saudi officials often send advance notices to families of execution victims related to murder cases. But, in most other cases, executions are not announced until after they take place. This means that relatives of prisoners on death row often find out about executions through state media reports. It is sometimes the responsibility of other prisoners to contact the families and inform them.
Dahini added that the families “do not have the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones”.
State media reports did not provide details of how the recent executions were carried out, but Saudi Arabia has frequently carried out executions by beheading.
Since the beginning of this year, 144 executions have been carried out in Saudi Arabia, more than double last year’s total of 69.
In March, the Saudi authorities executed 81 people in one day on terrorism-related charges, amid international criticism.
The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights says it is aware of 54 people awaiting executions, including eight minors, but Dahini says the number may be higher.
For his part, the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, claimed in an interview with The Atlantic magazine that Saudi Arabia had “got rid of” the death penalty, except for cases of murder or when someone “threatens the lives of many people”.