• 1,243 people put to death in the kingdom between 2010 and 2021, says Reprieve
• Pakistanis make up highest number among those executed
KARACHI: While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has rebranded itself as a country open to investment, tourism and engagement with the rest of the world under powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, also known as MBS, the desert kingdom’s reputation as one of the largest executioners in the globe persists.
Figures compiled in a fresh report by UK-based human rights NGO Reprieve, point to the disturbing fact that under the crown prince’s watch, hundreds of people have been put to death.
In fact, 2022 was amongst the bloodiest years on record, with 147 people executed. The report claims that after MBS’s father King Salman took the throne in 2015, executions went up by 82 per cent.
The report, Bloodshed and Lies: Mohammed bin Salman’s Kingdom of Executions, has been compiled by Reprieve and the Berlin-based European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights. BBC News also recently highlighted its findings.
According to the document, at least 1,243 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia between 2010 and 2021.
The bloodiest single-day round of executions took place on March 12 last year, when 81 individuals were given capital punishment. Nearly half of the men were from the Kingdom’s Shia minority. Some were accused of pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations, including the self-styled Islamic State, Al Qaeda as well as the Houthi movement of Yemen.
Earlier, in 2016, 47 people were killed, including outspoken Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir an-Nimr. Moreover, during the period covered, the greatest number of foreign nationals executed by Saudi Arabia happen to be Pakistanis.
As per families of some of the victims BBC News spoke to, they were not informed in advance of their loved ones’ execution, while in some cases they were not given the bodies for burial after their sentence was carried out.
According to the Reprieve report, problems arise due to the opacity of the Saudi legal system and lack of due process, leading to questions about the arbitrary use of the death penalty.
The report says that there is “a legacy of discrimination, injustice, misrepresentation and human rights violations in Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty from 2010 to 2021.” Particularly problematic is the use of capital punishment against minors, and “disproportionate” use against foreigners and women. It adds that since 2010, at least 15 individuals have been executed for crimes they allegedly committed when they were under 18.
The Reprieve document also claims that a female Indonesian domestic staffer was executed in 2011 after she hit and killed her employer in self-defence after he tried to rape her. As she was fleeing her employer’s house after the incident, she was gang-raped by nine men.
The report says that out of the 490 foreign nationals executed by Saudi Arabia during 2010-2021, Pakistanis make up the highest number, 164. Yemenis and Syrians come in second and third, respectively. In the case of seven Pakistanis, all the men were denied access to interpreters and a lawyer, while they were also not granted consular assistance.
“There is no robust mechanism within Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system to ensure that defendants are provided with legal representation. Some foreign nationals may lack the financial resources to afford legal representation in their cases,” it adds.
According to the BBC report, in 2018 MBS had promised to “minimise” use of the death penalty. However, Saudi Arabia appears to have done quite the opposite, applying capital punishment to offences that do not meet the “most serious crimes” threshold, while also apparently executing individuals for their political views or for demanding fundamental rights. Multiple requests by the BBC to the Saudi Human Rights Commission went unanswered.
However, the Kingdom’s mission in London replied to queries about the report, by saying that “As we respect their right [of other nations] to determine their own laws and customs, we hope that others will respect our sovereign right to follow our own judicial and legislative choices.”
Among the recommendations made in the Reprieve report, Riyadh has been asked to: abolish the death penalty for non-lethal offences; commute all current death sentences for non-lethal offences; end the use of discretionary death sentences and ensure that the proposed Penal Code clearly defines all offences that may be subject to prosecution and criminal sanctions; ratify the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.