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Saudi Arabia: Jordanian man at imminent risk of execution for drugs offences

His family fear that Hussein Abo al-Kheir could be executed with no notice © Private

Hussein Abo al-Kheir, father of eight, has been on death row since 2015

In past three weeks 20 people executed for drugs offences, with 148 executed in total this year

‘How is it possible that the authorities might execute him at any moment without telling us?’ - Kheir’s sister Zainab 

Hussein Abo al-Kheir - a Jordanian man and father of eight who has been on death row since 2015 on a drug-smuggling conviction - is at risk of imminent execution, Amnesty International said today, with Saudi Arabia recently resuming executions for drug-related offences after a two-year gap.

Since 10 November, Saudi Arabia has executed 20 people convicted on drug charges, 60% of whom were foreign nationals. Dozens more prisoners are feared to be facing the same fate. 

Earlier today, UN experts raised concerns that Kheir may “soon be executed” and called on the Saudi authorities to establish an official moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Meanwhile, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said that Kheir’s deprivation of liberty “lacks a legal basis”, and has called on the authorities to “quash his death sentence” and “immediately and unconditionally release him”.

Hussein’s sister, Zainab Abo al-Kheir, told Amnesty:

“Hussein called us yesterday and told us that the prison authorities took a Saudi man from his ward to be executed yesterday, and that two weeks ago two Jordanians were taken to be executed. We felt like he was preparing us for his imminent death, as if he was telling us ‘goodbye’. We don’t know what will happen to Hussein, but how is it possible that the authorities might execute him at any moment without telling us? Our anger and desperation are unexplainable.”

Saudi Arabia has already carried out 148 executions this year. In March, the authorities put 81 people to death in a single day - the largest mass execution in years - including 41 people from the country’s Shi’a minority. The authorities have also continued to hand down death sentences to members of the Shi’a minority, including those under the age of 18 at the time of their alleged crimes.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:

“The resumption of executions for drug-related offences in Saudi Arabia means that Hussein Abo al-Kheir could now be put to death at any moment. 

“He has already seen other detainees from his facility taken away to be executed. These callous executions must end now. 

“The Saudi authorities should immediately commute his sentence and the sentences of all those on death row. They must urgently declare a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty altogether.” 

Arrested for allegedly smuggling amphetamine pills

Hussein Abo al-Kheir was arrested in 2014 by customs officials while crossing from Jordan into Saudi Arabia for allegedly smuggling amphetamine pills. He was detained incommunicado at an unknown location for 12 days and was only able to contact his family two weeks after his arrest. He says the authorities obtained a “confession” from him by suspending him upside down by his feet and beating him so badly he could no longer hold a pen. He said he could only “sign” the document with a fingerprint. He later retracted this false confession before the Tabuk Criminal Court and requested a medical report, but says his claims of torture have not been investigated. He had no access to legal representation or consular assistance throughout his pre-trial detention and court proceedings.

In June 2021, Keir shared positive news with his family after the authorities told him his death sentence had been suspended and was being reviewed in light of a directive issued by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, which stated that some detainees held on drug offences would be pardoned. Although it was unclear whether this order would apply to those already on death row, some detainees held within his facility were released. Since then, however, the authorities have not updated Kheir about the status of his case.

Moratorium on drug executions

In January 2021, the Saudi Human Rights Commission said the country had introduced a moratorium on executions for drug-related crimes, and that “the Kingdom and its justice system are focusing more on rehabilitation and prevention”. Between February 2020 and October 2022, Saudi Arabia did not carry out any executions for drug-related offences, but this moratorium on executions was never enshrined in law, which still stated that drug smuggling or related crimes are punishable by death under ta’zir (the judge’s discretion). Between 2016 and 2020, the Saudi authorities executed at least 232 Saudi and foreign nationals convicted on drug-related offences. 

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