Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Saudi Arabia executions

Demonstrators in New Delhi, India protest Saudi Arabia's mass execution of dozens of Shi'ite Muslims on May 13, 2019. (Photo: Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Right Groups Condemn Saudi Mass Executions as 'Brutal' Display of 'Autocratic Rule'

"This execution spree is all the more chilling in light of Saudi Arabia's deeply flawed justice system, which metes out death sentences following trials that are grossly and blatantly unfair."

Brett Wilkins

Prominent international human rights groups and defenders on Tuesday condemned Saudi Arabia's recent execution of 81 people in a single day and called on the fundamentalist monarchy to enact a moratorium on capital punishment and commute the death sentences of all condemned prisoners.

"The death penalty is incompatible with fundamental tenets of human rights and dignity, the right to life, and the prohibition of torture."

As Common Dreams reported, Saturday's executions are believed to have been the largest mass killing in the modern Saudi kingdom's 90-year history. More than half of those put to death were members of the minority Shi'ite Muslim community.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said the men—among them seven Yemenis and a Syrian—were executed for alleged crimes ranging from murder to the nebulous charge of "monitoring and targeting officials and expatriates."

Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement on Tuesday that "Saudi Arabia's mass execution of 81 men this weekend was a brutal show of its autocratic rule, and a justice system that puts the fairness of their trials and sentencing into serious doubt."

"The shocking callousness of their treatment is compounded by the fact that many families found out about their loved ones' deaths just like the rest of us, after the fact and through the media," he added.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday said that "some of those executed were sentenced to death following trials that did not meet fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not appear to meet the most serious crimes threshold, as required under international law."

The former Chilean president asserted that "implementation of death sentences following trials that do not offer the required fair trial guarantees is prohibited by international human rights and humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime," while reiterating that "the death penalty is incompatible with fundamental tenets of human rights and dignity, the right to life, and the prohibition of torture."

"I am concerned that Saudi legislation contains an extremely broad definition of terrorism, including non-violent acts that supposedly 'endanger national unity' or 'undermine the state's reputation,'" Bachelet added. "This risks criminalizing people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

According to Amnesty International, the 81 executions carried out by Saudi Arabia exceeded the country's 2020 total of 27 by 300% in one fell swoop. The human rights group says that the fundamentalist monarchy ranked fifth in global executions in 2020 after China, Iran, Egypt, and Iraq.

"This execution spree is all the more chilling in light of Saudi Arabia's deeply flawed justice system, which metes out death sentences following trials that are grossly and blatantly unfair, including basing verdicts on 'confessions' extracted under torture or other ill-treatment," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement Tuesday.

"Such a shocking number of deaths also reveals Saudi Arabia's lack of transparency in death penalty cases since we know that the number of trials resulting in prisoners being placed on death row is always significantly higher than what is publicly reported," she added. "Many individuals today in Saudi Arabia are at imminent risk of execution."

Despite having one of the world's worst overall human rights records, the United States and other democracies remain staunch supporters of the Saudi regime. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to visit the kingdom this week, where he will reportedly push for an increase in oil production amid supply disruptions caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In an implicit rebuke of the celebrity-laden, multibillion-dollar global Saudi public relations effort that HRW calls "image laundering," Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CodePink and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection, said in a statement Monday that last weekend's mass executions "should dispel any views that Saudi's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is any type of 'reformer.'"

"As the U.S. is imposing massive sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine," Benjamin added, "it is pandering to Saudi Arabia despite its brutal seven-year war on Yemen and this outrageous execution of 81 people in a single day."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Fulton County Subpoenas of Trump Allies Offer Hope 'That Justice Will Ultimately Be Served'

"The coordinated attempts by former President Donald Trump and his associates to discount and ignore the will of Georgian voters during the 2020 election cannot be swept under the rug," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett ·

Russian Official Makes Nuclear Threat Over US Support for Ukraine War Crimes Probe

Another official responded to Western sanctions by suggesting that Russia could reclaim Alaska.

Brett Wilkins ·

Biden Denounced for Imposing New Sanctions as Iran Nuclear Talks Falter

One Middle East expert accused the U.S. administration of "continuing and embracing Trump's max pressure policy, while expecting a different result."

Brett Wilkins ·

Under 'Draconian Abortion Ban,' Woman in El Salvador Sentenced to 50 Years for Pregnancy Loss

Laws like El Salvador's are "now being replicated in states across the U.S.," noted one observer.

Julia Conley ·

Warren, Sanders, and Others Blast Biden's 'Failure' on Federal Cannabis Policy

While commending Biden's pardons and commutations, six senators wrote that "much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo