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The number of death sentences carried out in Saudi Arabia from the beginning of 2019 to 23 April 2019 – the day on which 37 prisoners were executed – has risen to 107. Those executed are from diverse backgrounds, including children, women, demonstrators, activists, and the disabled.
These figures indicate a doubling of the executions carried out over the same period in 2018, during which Saudi Arabia carried out 48 death penalties, compared to 33 in 2017, 86 in 2016, and 68 in 2015.
According to its overall monitoring of many of the trials in Saudi Arabia, including the trials of some of the victims of the 23 April 2019 executions, the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) can confirm that the judicial system in Saudi Arabia gravely lacks the conditions and principles of fair trials. Many international appeals have been issued asking the Saudi government for new trials as a result of serious defects in the trials and the lack of an independent judiciary.
Furthermore, according to the documentation gathered by the ESOHR, the majority of the 37 people killed yesterday did not face serious charges; rather, their charges pertained to the exercise of legal rights. This means that almost 70% of the executions carried out since the beginning of 2019 run counter to international laws that forbid executions for crimes that are not among the most serious. Forty-one executions were for drug-related charges, and, since the beginning of 2019, 44% of those sentenced to death have been foreigners.
The European Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) notes that the doubling of executions coincides with the one-year anniversary of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s April 2018 pledge to reduce death sentences to a minimum. This promise came during a conversation with Time magazine in which he said: “We’ve tried to minimize [capital punishment.] There are a few areas that we can change itfrom execution to life in prison. So we are working through the government and also the Saudi parliament to build new laws in that area. And we believe it will take one year, maybe a little bit more, to have it finished….Yeah, of course it’s an initiative. But we will not get it 100 percent, but to reduce it big time.”
The ESOHR notes that at least three children continue to face the death penalty in Saudi Arabia: Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoun, and Abdullah al-Zahir. They could be decapitated at any moment. The Prosecutor-General continues to demand the death penalty against human rights advocates and activists involved in the same case as human rights advocate Israa al-Ghomgham;these include her husband, Mr. Musa al-Hashim, Ahmed al-Matroud, Ali al-Awishir, Khalid al-Ghanim, as well as Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, the researcher,Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, and Dr. Ali al-Omri. The ESOHR believes these individuals may face a similar fate because of the Saudi government’s insistence on the death penalty for charges that should not amount to more than imprisonment, as well as the use of unfair trials and confessions extracted under torture, despite UN condemnation and international appeals. Immediate international action is necessary to guarantee the immediate elimination of the death sentence.