Executions in Saudi Arabia Have Doubled Under Crown Prince, Watchdog Says

Number of executions between June 2017 and March 2018 was 133, compared to 67 in preceding eight months before Crown Prince Mohammed was installed, reports Reprieve; nearly half of those executed in 2018 were foreign nationals

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 1, 2018.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 1, 2018.Credit: ,AP
Anthony Harwood
Anthony Harwood

Executions in Saudi Arabia doubled during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first eight months in power, according to a new report by a U.K. human rights group.

Reprieve said there were 133 executions in the kingdom between June 2017 and March 2018, compared to just 67 in the eight months prior. Among those executed were scores of poor migrants who had allegedly been coerced into smuggling drugs.

The foreign workers, mostly from South Asia, were among nearly 150 executions in Saudi Arabia during 2018, according to the report. 

Reprieve said there have been nearly 700 executions in Saudi Arabia since 2014. There were an average of 13 executions a month this year, although that number peaked in July when 27 people were executed – including seven on a single day.

The nonprofit said the kingdom remains among the world’s top five executing states.

Reprieve noted that when he became crown prince, MBS (as he is commonly known in the Western media) had claimed he would be getting rid of the death penalty for drugs offenses.

“We’re tried to minimise executions,” he told Time Magazine last April. “If a person kills a person, they have to be executed in our law. But there are a few areas that we can change it from execution to life in prison.”

Despite this pledge, the number of people executed for drug offenses has actually gone up since he came into office.

Reprieve Director Maya Foa said: “Despite promises of reform from the crown prince, the kingdom is executing drug offenders at an alarmingly high rate, and at least 30 people – including some arrested as teenagers – face imminent execution for exercising their democratic rights.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talking with King Salman during the Gulf Cooperation Council's Summit in Riyadh, December 9, 2018. Credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS

She said the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Turkish consulate in October “exposed the brutality of Saudi Arabia’s rulers to the world. Now the kingdom must be held to account for its use of the death penalty, as political prisoners and vulnerable economic migrants await the executioner’s blade.”

The CIA concluded last month that Crown Prince Mohammed personally ordered the killing of the Saudi journalist.

Nearly 40 percent (58 people) of those executed in 2018 were convicted of drugs offenses, with 77 percent of them foreign nationals. Overall, 49 percent of the people executed this year were foreign nationals

“These are typically poor migrant workers, coerced into smuggling drugs in their intestines,” Reprieve said in its press statement.

In October, Saudi Arabia executed one foreign national – Indonesian housekeeper Tuti Tursilawati – without either her family or the Indonesian government being informed. The maid was found guilty in June 2011 of killing her Saudi employer the previous year. She said she had acted in self-defense after he tried to rape her.

Reprieve said only one person executed in 2018 was convicted in the kingdom’s Specialised Criminal Court, which deals with prosecutions for political crimes and terrorism. But it added that “at least 54 people are facing death sentences for opposing the regime, of whom 30 are at risk of imminent execution.”

One of the condemned prisoners is Abbas al-Hassan, sentenced to death in 2016 on charges of treason, including spying for Iran, spreading the Shia faith and attending protests. Earlier this year, a UN investigation said his trial did not meet “fair trial and due process guarantees,” and the charges were “in contravention of the right to freedom of religion.”

Last month, the death sentence on Hassan and 11 co-defendants, including two minors, was ratified by King Salman, meaning they can be put to death at any time.

Another defendant, Ali al-Nimr, was convicted while still a minor and sentenced to death by crucifixion, which in Saudi Arabia involves beheading and public display of the body.

Foa said Nimr’s planned execution, “based apparently on the authorities’ dislike for his uncle, and his involvement in anti-government protests, would violate international law and the most basic standards of decency. It must be stopped.”

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