Saudi Arabia is planning to execute dozens of people in a single day, according to Amnesty International who warn that "it is clear that the Saudi Arabian authorities are using the guise of counter-terrorism to settle political scores." As The BBC reports, 55 people were awaiting execution for "terrorist crimes", while a now-deleted report by al-Riyadh said 52 would die soon; which is on top of the "at least 151 people" who have been put to death since Saudi Arabia's current King Salman rose to power after the death of King Abdullah in January 2015, dramatically higher than the total of 90 in 2014.
As Vice News reports Amnesty International criticized the wave of executions, calling it "a grim new milestone in the Saudi Arabian authorities" use of the death penalty.
"The Saudi Arabian authorities appear intent on continuing a bloody execution spree which has seen at least 151 people put to death so far this year — an average of one person every two days," said James Lynch, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International. "The use of the death penalty is abhorrent in any circumstance but it is especially alarming that the Saudi Arabian authorities continue to use it in violation of international human rights law and standards, on such a wide scale, and after trials which are grossly unfair and sometimes politically motivated."
The last time Saudi Arabia executed more than 150 people in a single year was when 192 executions were recorded in 1995. No one at Saudi Arabia's Justice Ministry was immediately available to comment on the surge in the numbers of executions. But diplomats have speculated it may be because more judges have been appointed, allowing a backlog of appeals cases to be heard.
Saudi Arabia's current King Salman rose to power after the death of King Abdullah in January 2015, and has moved to consolidate authority among his own branch of the royal family. Upon assuming power, he shook up the cabinet, appointed a new minister of justice, and placed functionaries loyal to him in positions of power throughout the state bureaucracy.
Saudi Arabia has long been ranked among the top five countries to use capital punishment. It ranked number three in 2014, after China and Iran, and ahead of Iraq and the United States, according to figures from Amnesty International. The same five countries executed the most prisoners in the first six months of 2015.
However, things are about to get even crazier, as The BBC reports, Amnesty International has expressed alarm at reports that the authorities in Saudi Arabia are planning to execute dozens of people in a single day.
The newspaper Okaz said 55 people were awaiting execution for "terrorist crimes", while a now-deleted report by al-Riyadh said 52 would die soon.
They are thought to include Shia who took part in anti-government protests.
Amnesty said that given the spike in executions this year, it had no option but to take the reports very seriously.
The Saudi newspaper reports said those facing execution in the coming days included "al-Qaeda terrorists" and people from the Awamiya area.
The alleged al-Qaeda militants were accused of attempting to overthrow the government and carry out attacks using small arms, explosives and surface-to-air missiles, Okaz reported.
The Awamiya residents were meanwhile convicted of sedition, attacks on security personnel and interference in neighbouring Bahrain, it said.
Awamiya is a town in the Qatif region of oil-rich Eastern Province. Since 2011, it has been the centre of protests by Saudi Arabia's Shia minority, which has long complained of marginalisation at the hands of the Sunni monarchy.
Among those at imminent risk of execution were six Shia activists from Awamiya "who were clearly convicted in unfair trials", according to Amnesty.
"It is clear that the Saudi Arabian authorities are using the guise of counter-terrorism to settle political scores," said James Lynch, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
"Three of those six activists were sentenced for 'crimes' committed while they were children and have said that they were tortured to confess."
US ally Saudi Arabia argues that death sentences are carried out in line with Sharia and with the strictest fair trial standards and safeguards in place. Here are 10 sobering facts from Amnesty International’s research:
1. CRUEL, INHUMAN AND DEGRADING PUNISHMENT
Saudi Arabia’s courts continue to impose sentences of flogging as punishment for many offences, often following unfair trials. Besides Raif Badawi, in the past two years the human rights defenders Mikhlif bin Daham al-Shammari and Omar al-Sa’id were sentenced to 200 and 300 lashes, respectively, and Filipino domestic worker Ruth Cosrojas was sentenced to 300. Amputations and cross-amputations are also carried out as punishment for some crimes.
2. SPIKE IN EXECUTIONS
Saudi Arabia is among the world’s top executioners, with dozens of people being put to death annually, many in public beheadings. So far this year 40 people have been executed– almost four times the equivalent number for this time last year.
3. CRACKDOWN ON ACTIVISTS
Besides Raif Badawi, dozens more outspoken activists remain behind bars, simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The authorities have targeted the small but vocal community of human rights defenders, including by using anti-terrorism laws to suppress their peaceful actions to expose and address human rights violations.
4. NO SPACE FOR DISSENT
All public gatherings, including demonstrations, remain prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those who defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
5. SYSTEMATIC DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
Women and girls remain subject to discrimination in law and practice, with laws that subordinate their status to men, particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Women who supported a campaign against a de facto ban on women drivers face the threat of arrest and other harassment and intimidation.
6. ROUTINE TORTURE IN CUSTODY
Former detainees, trial defendants and others have told Amnesty International that the security forces’ use of torture and other ill-treatment remains common and widespread, and that those responsible are never brought to justice.
7. ARBITRARY ARREST AND DETENTIONS
Scores of people have been arrested and detained in pre-trial detention for six months or more, which breaches the Kingdom’s own criminal codes. Detainees are frequently held incommunicado during their interrogation and denied access to their lawyers. Some human rights activists have been detained without charge or trial for more than two years.
8. ENTRENCHED RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION
Members of the Kingdom’s Shi’a minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face entrenched discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Shi’a activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
9. MASS DEPORTATION OF MIGRANT WORKERS
According to the Interior Ministry, a crackdown on irregular foreign migrant workers in November 2013 led to the deportation of more than 370,000 people. Some 18,000 were still being detained last March. Thousands of people were summarily returned to Somalia, Yemen or other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses.
10. WHAT HAPPENS IN THE KINGDOM, STAYS IN THE KINGDOM
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organizations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact us.