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The first quarter of 2019 got off to a bloody start in Saudi Arabia. From the beginning of the year through the end of March, Saudi Arabia has carried out 49 death sentences, a 20% increase over the first quarter of 2018, in which 39 executions were carried out.
The increased rate of executions comes amid changes anticipatedsince Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman promised, in April 2018, to reduce the death penalty as much as possible, thus demonstrating the Crown Prince’sdeception over the last 12 months.
In addition to the increasing number of executions, 50% of the death sentences carried out since the beginning of the year have been for drug-related crimes, which are less serious crimes in international law. In 2018, 39% of executions in Saudi Arabia were for drug-related crimes, even though Saudi officials repeatedly insisted that the death sentence would be reserved for only the most serious crimes.
Despite concerns about violations suffered by Saudi residents of foreign nationality during their trials, such as depriving them of contact with their consulate or from obtaining a translator, the rate of execution remains highest for these residents. During the first quarter of 2019, 67% of those put to death were non-Saudis, including 10 Pakistanis, four Egyptians, two Indians, three Chadians, eight Yemenis, one Filipino, one Somali, two Syrians, and two Jordanians. The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) has already documented the flaws involved in the mass execution of four Yemenis in January 2019.
Of those executed, one was a woman convicted of murder, while the rest were men.
Executions in Saudi Arabia have continued apace despite the documentation of violations inflicted upon detainees – including torture and denial of the right to self defense – as well as the defects plaguing the country’s judicial system.
Despite the lack of transparency in the Saudi government’s handling of the files of detainees and those sentenced to death, and the resulting inability to ascertain the actual numbers of individuals facing execution, the ESOHR has documented the continued threat against more than 60 detainees.
The ESOHR’s documentation showed that death sentences were issued despite a lack of fair trial conditions, with many detainees subjected to enforced disappearance, confessions extracted through torture, and denial of legal representation,among other violations.
While the pressure brought to bear on the Saudi government seems to have forced the prosecutor general to withdraw its demand for the death penaltyagainst human rights advocateIsraa al-Ghomgham in January 2019,several detainees are still facing the death penalty on political charges. Among them are four detainees in the same case asal-Ghomgham: Mr. Musa al-Hashim, Ahmad al-Matroud, Ali al-Awishir, Khalid al-Ghanim, Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, and Hassan al-Maliki. In addition, at least eight children still face execution on charges related to participation in demonstrations.
The ESOHR believes that the first quarter of 2019 has provoked fears of rising numbers of executions compared to past years. If the levels continue at this rate, executions may increase by 20% over 2018, meaning that more than 177 death sentences will be carried out by the end of the year.
The ESOHR stresses that the only recourse is to release all prisoners of conscience and political detainees, especially those whose freedom is demanded by UN special rapporteurs, and to ensure a fair trial for all accused. In light of the numbers and documentation, the ESOHR sees no positive indications that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will fulfil his promises.