Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman poses at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France on June 16, 2023.
(Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images)

Despite Promises of MBS, Saudi Arabia Executed 172 People Last Year

"Behind the mega-investments in sport and the facade of reform, the kingdom remains one of the world's top executioners," said the director of one human rights group.

Since King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took control of Saudia Arabia nine years ago, executions have surged—a trend that continued last year, a pair of human rights organizations said Tuesday.

The crown prince, or MBS—Saudi Arabia's prime minister and de facto leader—has pledged to curb capital punishment in recent years. However, Reprieve and the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) announced that the kingdom executed at least 172 people in 2023.

The state-controlled Saudi Press Agencyput the number at 170, including four on New Year's Eve.

Reprieve and ESOHR previously highlighted that from 2010-14, Saudi Arabia had an average of 70.8 executions per year. After MBS and his father rose to power in 2015 through 2022, it jumped to 129.5—a nearly 83% increase. That was when the tally for 2022 was 147, but the Saudi Human Rights Commission later confirmed it was 196, a modern record.

"It is terrifying to think that this is business as usual in Mohammed bin Salman's Saudi Arabia," Reprieve director Maya Foa said Tuesday. "Behind the mega-investments in sport and the facade of reform, the kingdom remains one of the world's top executioners."

"Owning the wrong books, posting a critical tweet, speaking to a journalist, or disagreeing with the crown prince can earn you a death sentence," she continued. "And while world leaders stare at their shoes and agree to believe the regime's lies, the killing continues relentlessly."

Amnesty International revealed last May that Saudi Arabia ranked third in the world for executions, based on 2022 data. China was in the top spot, followed by Iran, and the group was unable to establish figures for Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, and Vietnam.

Reprieve and ESOHR noted that Saudia Arabia's "true number of executions cannot be ascertained with confidence" and "there is also no way of knowing how many hundreds or even thousands of people are on death row as the kingdom's capital justice system is almost entirely opaque."

ESOHR legal director Taha al-Hajji stressed that "the crown prince has blamed 'bad laws' and rogue judges for Saudi Arabia's continued execution crisis, but nothing gets done in the kingdom without his approval."

"His endless empty promises of reform are contradicted by the facts: It has been yet another year of bloodshed in Saudi Arabia," al-Hajji added. "Protesters and child defendants remain at imminent risk of execution with a stroke of the ruler's pen."

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