Child offenders and those with mental disabilities among those executed
Saudi Arabia is carrying out executions at an average rate of one every two days, with at least 102 people executed in the first six months of this year compared to 90 in all of 2014.
Between August 2014 and this June at least 175 people were put to death in the country.
The figures come in a new 44-page Amnesty International report - ‘Killing in the Name of Justice’: the death penalty in Saudi Arabia - which exposes the shockingly arbitrary use of the death penalty in the country, where death sentences are often imposed after trials that blatantly flout international standards.
Most executions in Saudi Arabia are carried out by beheading, or in some cases by firing squad. In certain cases executions are carried out in public and the dead bodies and severed heads are put on display afterwards. Often, families of prisoners on death row are not notified of their execution and only learn of their loved one’s fate after they've been put to death, sometimes through media reports.
Saudi Arabia’s Shari’a law-based justice system lacks a criminal code, leaving definitions of crimes and punishments vague and open to interpretation, and the system gives judges wide discretion in sentencing, leading to vast discrepancies. For certain crimes punishable under tai’zir (discretionary punishments) suspicion alone is enough for a judge to invoke the death penalty based on the severity of the crime or character of the offender. The Saudi justice system also lacks the most basic precautions to ensure the right to a fair trial. Death sentences are often imposed after unfair and summary proceedings, sometimes held in secret. Defendants are often denied access to a lawyer, are regularly convicted via “confessions” extracted under torture, and are also denied the right to a proper, thorough appeal.
In one case of many, a cleric and government critic called Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was sentenced to death last October after being convicted of vague offences after a deeply flawed and politically-motivated trial. The Saudi authorities vehemently reject criticism of their use of the death penalty arguing that death sentences are carried out in line with Shari’a law, only for the “most serious crimes”, and with the strictest fair trial standards and safeguards in place.
Amnesty International’s Acting Middle East Director Said Boumedouha said:
“Sentencing hundreds of people to death after deeply-flawed legal proceedings is utterly shameful.
“The use of the death penalty is horrendous in all circumstances, and is particularly deplorable when it is arbitrarily applied after blatantly unfair trials.
“Instead of defending the country’s appalling record, the Saudi Arabian authorities should urgently establish an official moratorium on executions and implement international fair trial standards in all criminal cases.”
Pending full abolition of the death penalty, Amnesty is calling on the Saudi authorities to restrict the scope of its use to crimes involving “intentional killing” in line with international law and standards, and to end the practice of imposing death sentences on child offenders and those suffering from mental disabilities.
30 years of executions
At least 2,208 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia between January 1985 and June 2015, and a third of these have been for offences not meeting the threshold of “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty may be applied under international law. Nearly half - 48.5% - of executions in the last three decades have been of foreign nationals. Many of these were denied adequate translation assistance during their trials and were made to sign documents - including confessions - they did not understand. Meanwhile, a large number of death sentences - 28% since 1991- have been imposed for drug-related offences.