• Press Release

Saudi Arabia: 151 executed this year in highest recorded toll in nearly two decades

November 9, 2015

At least 151 people have been put to death in Saudi Arabia so far this year –the highest recorded figure since 1995 – in an unprecedented wave of executions marking a grim new milestone in the Saudi Arabian authorities’ use of the death penalty, said Amnesty International.

So far in 2015, on average, one person has been executed every other day. Annual execution tolls for Saudi Arabia in recent years have rarely exceeded 90 for the entire year. The latest execution took place on 9 November.

“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 Director at Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

According to Amnesty International’s records, the last time Saudi Arabia executed more than 150 people in a single year was in 1995, when 192 executions were recorded. In 2014 the total number of executions carried out was 90 – meaning that so far there has been a 68% increase in executions over the whole of last year.

Death sentences in Saudi Arabia are frequently imposed for non-lethal offences, such as drug-related ones, and after unfair trials which lack basic safeguards for fair trial provided for under international human rights law and standards. This was documented in Amnesty International’s August 2015 report Killing in the Name of Justice: The death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

Almost half of the 151 executions carried out this year were for offences that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty can be imposed under international human rights law. This blatantly contradicts the Saudi Arabian authorities’ claims to apply the death penalty with the strictest safeguards in place. Under international human rights standards “most serious crimes” are crimes that involve intentional killing.

Of the 63 people executed this year for drug-related charges, the vast majority, 45 people, were foreign nationals. The total number of foreign nationals executed so far this year is 71. The death penalty is disproportionately used against foreigners in Saudi Arabia. Foreign nationals, mostly migrant workers from developing countries, are particularly vulnerable as they typically lack knowledge of Arabic and are denied adequate translation during their trials.

“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,” said James Lynch.

Concerns over the increase in executions have been further compounded by the apparent use of the death penalty as a political tool to clamp down on Saudi Arabian Shi’a Muslim dissidents.

Last month the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a prominent Shi’a Muslim cleric from the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, after a politicized and grossly unfair trial at Saudi Arabia’s notorious counter-terror court (the Specialized Criminal Court).

This followed news that Sheikh al-Nimr’s nephew Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, and two other young Shi’a activists, Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, who were arrested as juveniles after participating in anti-government rallies, also had their death sentences upheld. All three have said they were tortured and denied access to a lawyer during their trials. The three young men have recently been transferred to solitary confinement heightening fears that their executions could be imminent.

Saudi Arabia also continues to impose death sentences on and execute people below 18 years of age, in violation of the country’s obligations under international customary law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Using the death penalty against juvenile offenders is an egregious violation of international human rights law. The use of the threat of executions as a tool to punish and intimidate political dissidents by the Saudi Arabian authorities is an appalling abuse of power. Instead of intimidating people with the threat of state sanctioned killing, the Saudi Arabian authorities should halt all impending executions and urgently establish a moratorium on executions as well as overhaul the Kingdom’s deeply flawed justice system,” said James Lynch.