Horrible Histories or grim reality? Saudi Arabia and the death penalty
Update, 13th March
We have received news that tragically, the seven men were executed this morning by firing squad in Saudi Arabia. People close to the men reported that seven mounds of earth had appeared in a public square in Abha, where they were detained, signalling what was believed to be their imminent execution.
Our Director for the Middle East and North Africa described the execution as a "sheer act of brutality".
Thank you if you wrote to the Saudi authorities.
All the Urgent Actions we receive from our research headquarters highlight serious violations of human rights affecting individuals or communities around the world; all of which are shocking. But sometimes, some stories stand out as being particularly disturbing.
Late last week, we found out about seven young Saudi Arabian men who were scheduled to be executed on March 5th, by firing squad. More shockingly, one of the men, Sarha Al Mashayekh was sentenced to crucifixion following death. Yes, you read that right, crucifixion; the excruciating method of execution used by the Romans, amongst others, around 2000 years ago. Today in Saudi Arabia, this would involve the upper body (along with the separated head if beheaded) being tied to a pole in a public square. The idea is that this gruesome sight acts as a deterrent to other would-be criminals.
All of this is happening in the 21st Century yet their story reads like something out of a ‘Horrible Histories’ book. The seven men were found guilty of an armed robbery and were arrested in 2005 and 2006; when two of them might have been under 18. They say that they were severely beaten during their interrogation, denied food and water and deprived of sleep. They also say they were forced to remain standing for 24 hours and then made to sign “confessions”.
Just take a moment to think about how awful that might be. At the complete opposite end of the scale, I find it hard to go without breakfast; if I don’t have a drink of water all morning I feel sick; and trying to stay up past midnight is a complete struggle, so I can’t begin to imagine what that kind of treatment is like to experience on such an extreme and violent scale.
Yet the men faced further human rights violations that are astounding to read. Following the appalling treatment after their arrest, they were then detained for three and a half years in Abha General Prison before going on trial. At the trial, security officers warned them that if they withdrew their “confessions” they would be tortured again, and members of their families, including their mothers, would be brought to prison and tortured in front of them. The trial itself was seriously flawed, and only lasted only a few hours; that’s for all seven men. They were all denied both legal representation and the opportunity to appeal.
There is a glimmer of hope to this terrible tale, thankfully, yesterday; we found out that the executions have been postponed. But the seven men could still be executed as early as next week.
Many members of our Urgent Action Network have already written appeals to the Saudi authorities, which may have helped to secure the postponement. The story has also picked up a great deal of media attention, including this story from the Guardian which claims that a Saudi security official said King Abdullah would review the sentences after the ruler of the relevant province of had ordered the postponement.
If you too, are appalled by the gruesome reality in Saudi Arabia, why not do something about it and write to the Saudi authorities or join thousands of others who write similar appeals regularly through our Urgent Action Network? Your appeals can and do make a difference in such cases, so taking 10 minutes to send a fax, email or letter really could help to stop such barbarity from taking place.
Please write before the 16 April to:
King and Prime Minister
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior)
+966 1 403 3125 (please keep trying)
Salutation: Your Majesty
Minister of the Interior
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Ministry of the Interior, P.O. Box 2933,
Airport Road, Riyadh 11134
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 403 3125 (please keep trying)
Salutation: Your Royal Highness
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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.