Saudi Arabia must halt a “disturbing” rise in its use of the death penalty, Amnesty International said this after six people were executed in the country yesterday.
Five Yemeni men were beheaded and “crucified” yesterday in the city of Jizan, while a Saudi Arabian man was executed in the south-western city of Abha.
The beheadings and “crucifixions” took place in front of the University of Jizan where students are taking exams. Pictures emerged on social media appearing to show five decapitated bodies hanging from a horizontal pole with their heads wrapped in bags. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of “crucifixion” refers to the court-ordered public display of the body after execution, along with the separated head if beheaded. It takes place in a public square to allegedly act as a deterrent.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said the five men executed in Jizan were found guilty of forming an armed gang, armed robbery and the murder of a Saudi Arabian man. It is unclear if all five were convicted of the murder. Meanwhile, the sixth execution was carried out in Abha, where the Interior Ministry reported that a Saudi Arabian man was executed for murder.
"By the grace of God, the security authorities were able to apprehend the perpetrators. Investigation resulted in charging them with committing their crimes," the ministry's statement said, according to Reuters news agency. "A sharia verdict was issued against them affirming their indictment," it said. Their crimes were classified as among the most serious, according to sharia law.
Yesterday's executions take the figure of state killings in Saudi Arabia so far this year to at least 47 - an increase of 18 compared to this time last year, and a rise of 29 compared to the same period in 2011, according to Amnesty Inernational. There has also been an increase in executions for drug-related offences, with at least 12 executed for such offences so far this year. Rates of executions in the Saudi Arabia are feared to be even higher than declared, as secret and unannounced executions have been reported.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: “Saudi Arabia’s increased use of this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is deeply disturbing and the authorities must halt what is a horrifying trend. The Kingdom must immediately establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing capital punishment.”
Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of crimes including “adultery”, armed robbery, “apostasy”, drug smuggling, kidnapping, rape, “witchcraft” and “sorcery”. Authorities routinely flout international standards for fair trial and safeguards for defendants, who are often denied representation by lawyers and not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. They may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture or other ill-treatment.