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Mass beheadings by Saudi draw global condemnation

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (photo by AFP)

World leaders and several human rights organizations have expressed shock and condemnation over Saudi Arabia's recent mass execution of nearly 40 people in a single day, as a crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against dissidents widens in the kingdom.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement issued in Geneva on Wednesday that most of those beheaded were minority Shia Muslims. She also voiced concern about a lack of due process and fair trial in the kingdom amid allegations that confessions were obtained through torture.

"It is particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing," Bachelet said.

Elsewhere in the statement, she called on Saudi authorities to review counterterrorism legislation and halt pending executions.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by state-run media that it had put 37 citizens to death for their alleged "adoption of extremist, terrorist ideology and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disturb security, spread chaos and cause sectarian discord."

Reports said the beheaded body of one of the victims, Khaled bin Abdel Karim al-Tuwaijri, was attached to a pole for several hours. 

Adam Coogle, who monitors Saudi Arabia for Human Rights Watch, said at least 33 of those executed were Saudi Shias, noting that some of the victims had been convicted based on confessions made under torture.

Also on Tuesday, Amnesty International slammed the executions, saying that the victims had been convicted "after sham trials," which relied on "confessions extracted through torture."

The rights body stated that 14 of those executed had participated in anti-government protests in the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province in 2011-2012. It also said one of them, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, was arrested when he was 16, making his execution a "flagrant violation of international law."

The European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the executions heightened doubts about respect for the right to a fair trial in Saudi Arabia and could fuel sectarian violence.

Britain also condemned the beheadings and described the move as “repulsive” and “utterly unacceptable in the modern world.”

“Any country needs to realize that when it uses methods like this they will eventually backfire. The practical benefit is entirely negative,” the Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said on Wednesday. 

The mass execution is the largest in Saudi Arabia since January 2016, when 47 men were executed in a single day, including outspoken Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. 

Saudi Arabia has come under increasing global scrutiny over its human rights record since the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate and the detention of women's rights activists.

Bin Salman’s international reputation has been badly tarnished by his role in Khashoggi’s murder.

Figures show the kingdom has stepped up the rate of executions in 2019, with at least 104 people put to death since the start of the year compared to 149 for the entire 2018.

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