RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Saturday it had executed a record 81 people in one day for terrorism-related offences, surpassing the total number killed last year and drawing criticism from human rights activists.
All had been “found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes”, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, saying that they included convicts linked to Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Houthi rebel forces or “other terrorist organisations”. .
The wealthy Gulf country has one of the highest execution rates in the world and has frequently carried out death sentences by beheading.
Those executed had been convicted of planning attacks in the kingdom, including killing “a large number” of civilians and members of the security forces, the SPA statement said.
“They also include convictions for attacking government personnel and vital economic sites, killing law enforcement officers and mutilating their bodies, and planting landmines to attack police vehicles,” the SPA said.
“The convictions include crimes of kidnapping, torture, rape, smuggling weapons and bombs into the kingdom,” he added.
Of the 81 people killed, 73 were Saudi citizens, seven Yemenis and one Syrian national.
‘Strict and unshakeable position’
SPA said all of those executed were tried in Saudi courts, with trials overseen by 13 judges, carried out in three separate stages for each individual.
“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten stability,” the news agency added.
Saudi Arabia has been the target of a series of deadly shootings and attacks since late 2014 carried out by extremists from the Daesh group.
The kingdom also leads a military coalition that has been fighting in Yemen since 2015 against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who in turn have launched attacks against Saudi Arabia.
But the executions drew condemnation from the Britain-based campaign group Reprieve.
“Just last week, the crown prince (Mohammed bin Salman) told reporters that he plans to modernize Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, only to order the largest mass execution in the country’s history,” Reprieve said.
“There are prisoners of conscience on Saudi death row and others detained as children or charged with non-violent crimes. We fear for every one of them following this brutal display of impunity.”
Saturday’s announcement of 81 deaths marks more than the total of 69 executions in all of 2021.
As of Saturday, Saudi Arabia had executed 11 people convicted of various crimes in 2022, according to a AFP count based on official announcement. This brings to 92 the total executed so far this year.
Around 50 countries around the world continue to use the death penalty.
In 2020, 88 percent of the 483 reported executions took place in just four countries: Iran, with 246, followed by Egypt with 107, Iraq with 45, and then Saudi Arabia, which carried out 27 that year, according to Amnesty International.
teen crime death row
Saturday’s executions were announced a day after the release of Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison on charges of insulting Islam.
But Badawi, who was given just 50 lashes before the punishment was halted following the global condemnation, is now subject to a 10-year travel ban, officials confirmed to The Associated Press. AFP on Saturday.
It means the 38-year-old cannot join his wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children in Canada, where they fled after their arrest.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has announced a series of sentencing reforms, including a moratorium on the death penalty for drug offences, as well as the abolition of court-ordered flogging.
In April 2020, the kingdom also announced that it would end the death penalty for those convicted of crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.
On Saturday, a human rights group and relatives of a Saudi man sentenced to death as a minor said they had taken him to hospital after going on a hunger strike and fainting.
Abdullah al-Howaiti, who was just 14 years old when he was arrested in 2017 on charges of armed robbery and murder of a police officer, was sentenced to death for the first time in 2019, with the verdict upheld last month in a new trial.
“Abdullah went on a hunger strike and was hospitalized after collapsing,” Reprieve said.