Saudi Arabia: 37 people have been executed for terrorism-related charges. Concerns rise on the Saudi use of death penalty

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On 23 April 2019, Saudi government executed 37 people who have been previously convicted for terrorism-related charges.  

Most of men involved in the execution were part of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. International Organisations have expressed deep concerns on the lawfulness of trials, claiming that they violated international fair trial standard. Moreover, the majority of convictions were carried out on the grounds of false confessions extorted with torture.

Among the 37 people sentenced to death, eleven had been accused of spying for Iran and had been arrested in 2013. They remained in prison for two years or more before their trials begun and they were denied access to their lawyers, who later boycotted the proceeding. Meanwhile, fourteen of them had been arrested because they took part in the anti-government demonstrations in the Shia majority Eastern Province, between 2011 and 2012. They had been subject to pre-trial detention and tortures as well.

Munir Al Adam, was one of the 37 people who have been executed on Tuesday. He was a Saudi citizen and he was arrested in 2012 with the charge of having attended a pro-democracy protest. During his detention, Munir was subjected to tortures that made him deaf from one ear. His trial begun three years after his arrest, in 2015. Nevertheless, he was prevented from accessing any legal counsel. In May 2017,
Munir was sentenced to death, even though his case was still under review by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which Americans For Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) had submitted a petition in 2016. However, the Saudi High Court confirmed the death sentence in July 2017 without any further possibility to appeal the case.

Alongside with Munir, Abbas Al-Hassan was one of the executed men. He was a Saudi citizen from the Shia majority town of al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province. Al-Hassan was arrested in 2013 for alleged ties with Iran and espionage. He was held incommunicado for three months and he was subject to torture to made him confess the charges against him. His case took three years time to conclude and during such time he was detained. Finally, in 2016 a Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced him to death. Nevertheless, Saudi authorities have never been able to provide necessary documents to prepare a defence, Al-Hassan was prevented from meeting with his lawyer and his charges were based on the confessions coerced with torture.

The Middle East Research Direct at Amnesty International, Lynn Maalouf, commented: “Today’s mass execution is a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities callous disregard for human life. It is also yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shia minority”. According to the NGO at least 104 people have been executed this year by Saudi Arabia, of whom 44 foreign nationals, mainly accused of drug-related crimes. In 2018, Saudi Arabia carried out 149 executions in total.

Throughout the last years the European Parliament addressed several times its worries towards the frequent death penalty use in Saudi Arabia asking for an action from the European Institutions.

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) strongly condemns Saudi Arabia’s excessive use of death penalty, especially regarding the last happenings of 23 April 2019. It calls upon the cease of such brutal punishment towards civilians. Furthermore, it condemns the frequent cases of unfair trials and calls upon the respect of international fair trail standard as well as the immediate halt of tortures and other ill-treatments to detainees.