Saudi Arabia: six executed, including five Yemenis crucified outside a university

Saudi Arabia must halt a “disturbing” rise in its use of the death penalty, Amnesty International said this evening after six people were executed in the country today.

Five Yemeni men were beheaded and “crucified” this morning in the city of Jizan, while a Saudi Arabian man was executed in the south-western city of Abha.

The beheadings and “crucifixions” took place in front of the University of Jizan where students are taking exams. Pictures emerged on social media appearing to show five decapitated bodies hanging from a horizontal pole with their heads wrapped in bags. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of “crucifixion” refers to the court-ordered public display of the body after execution, along with the separated head if beheaded. It takes place in a public square to allegedly act as a deterrent.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry today said the five men executed in Jizan were found guilty of forming an armed gang, armed robbery and the murder of a Saudi Arabian man. It is unclear if all five were convicted of the murder. Meanwhile, the sixth execution was carried out in Abha, where the Interior Ministry reported that a Saudi Arabian man was executed for murder.

Today’s executions take the figure of state killings in Saudi Arabia so far this year to at least 47 - an increase of 18 compared to this time last year, and a rise of 29 compared to the same period in 2011. Today’s executions mean at least 12 people have received the death penalty in Saudi Arabia in May alone. Of those killed this year, at least 19 were foreign nationals.

There has also been an increase in executions for drug-related offences, with at least 12 executed for such offences so far this year. Twenty-two people were executed for such offences last year, compared with three in 2011 and just one in 2010. Non-lethal crimes such as drug-trafficking are not accepted as “most serious crimes” under international standards applicable to the death penalty.

Rates of executions in the Saudi Arabia are feared to be even higher than declared, as secret and unannounced executions have been reported.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“Saudi Arabia’s increased use of this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is deeply disturbing and the authorities must halt what is a horrifying trend.

“The Kingdom must immediately establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing capital punishment.”

Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of crimes including “adultery”, armed robbery, “apostasy”, drug smuggling, kidnapping, rape, “witchcraft” and “sorcery”. Some of these so-called offences should not even be criminalised under international standards. Authorities in Saudi Arabia routinely flout international standards for fair trial and safeguards for defendants, who are often denied representation by lawyers and not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. They may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture or other ill-treatment.

Saudi Arabia also continues to execute individuals for crimes they allegedly committed while under the age of 18, in breach of international law. In January, a Sri Lankan domestic worker who was 17 when she allegedly killed an infant in her care, was beheaded. Rizana Nafeek had no access to lawyers and claimed she was forced to make a “confession” under duress.

In March, seven men, two of whom were under 18 when arrested, were shot in a public square, also in Abha, the scene of today’s sixth execution. They were not officially informed of their pending execution, but found out about it through friends and relatives who had sent them photos of seven mounds of earth being erected in the public square.

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.

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