Two human rights organizations have filed a complaint at the United Nations against arbitrary executions in Saudi Arabia, especially after last month’s execution of dozens of prisoners in a single day in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) and Reprieve, a UK-based non-profit organization of international lawyers and investigators, said the Riyadh regime openly declared its disregard for international principles as well as its commitments and obligations through the executions of 81 men, 41 of whom were Shia Muslims, in March.
The organizations stressed that special rapporteurs have pointed to various counts of violations, including torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention, in their reports, and informed the Saudi government in several letters about their occurrence.
They highlighted that the recent and previous executions of anti-regime demonstrators and minors show that Saudi Arabia, contrary to official promises, continues to arbitrarily carry out death sentences.
The organizations noted that dozens of people, among them at least five minors and prisoners of conscience such as Muslim scholar Sheikh Hassan Farhan al-Maliki and Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, are currently on death row and face the risk of execution.
They cautioned that Saudi Arabia's disregard for its obligations, especially the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), requires a decisive stance from the Human Rights Council, and proves the failure of the Saudi government’s propaganda campaign before the Council over the past years.
Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi defense lawyer and legal consultant for the ESOHR, said documents from a number of cases included in the mass execution confirmed their lack of justice.
He pointed out that the defendants were subjected to torture and deprivation of adequate defense for themselves, and that many of those executed faced charges that were not fairly serious.
State news agency Saudi Press Agency said on March 12 that the authorities had executed 81 people in one day on a variety of offences.
Of the 81 people, 73 were Saudi citizens, seven were Yemeni and one was a Syrian national.
The 2022 executions exceeded the total number of Saudi Arabia’s punishments by death throughout last year.
Back in early January 2016, Saudi authorities also executed 47 people, including prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who had vociferously called for democracy in the kingdom and advocated anti-regime protests. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif, Eastern Province, in 2012.
Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has reportedly executed more than 900 prisoners in an increasing rate. In 2019 alone, Saudi Arabia set a record number of executions after authorities executed 184 people, despite a general decrease in the number of executions around the world.
In April 2020, Reprieve said Saudi Arabia had carried out its 800th execution. The report added that executions had almost doubled in only five years in comparison with the 423 executions conducted in Saudi Arabia from 2009 through 2014.
Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.
Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedom of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.