Saudi Arabia is executing people at a "frightening" rate, campaigners have warned, after it emerged the kingdom had killed its 70th prisoner of the year bringing the total number to almost half that of 2015.
Alaa al-Zahrani, who was put to death in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, was found guilty of killing fellow Saudi Abdullah al-Sumairi with a rock to the head, the interior ministry revealed in a statement published by the Saudi’s official state news agency SPA.
Several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide placed the figure at 157 last year, with beheadings reaching their highest level in two decades.
Saudi Arabia does not release annual tallies, though it does announce individual executions in state media throughout the year. Most people beheaded in the oil-rich kingdom are beheaded by sword.
Speaking to The Independent, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs Allan Hogarth said: “The death penalty is always cruel and unnecessary, but the Saudi justice system lacks evens the basics of a fair trial system and it’s truly frightening that its courts are sentencing so many people to death.
"For too long Downing Street has bent over backwards to avoid ‘offending’ the Saudi royals,"
“With death sentences imposed after deeply unfair - and sometimes secret - proceedings, with defendants often denied a lawyer, and with courts regularly convicting people on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted under torture, Saudi Arabia is making a mockery of justice and dozens of people are paying with their lives.
“It’s time that ‘strategic allies’ like the UK started speaking out about this shocking state of affairs. For too long Downing Street has bent over backwards to avoid ‘offending’ the Saudi royals. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is utterly appalling and the UK government should say so.”
The kingdom came under intense criticism at the beginning of the year when it executed 47 people for “terrorism offences” in one day, including the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Juveniles on death row in Saudi Arabia
Juveniles on death row in Saudi Arabia
1/8 Abdullah al-Zaher
Abdullah al-Zaher was arrested at the age of 15 for attending a protest and he is was the youngest in a group of juvenile offenders put on death row
2/8 Abdullah al-Zaher
Previously held alongside fellow juvenile offender Ali al-Nimr, whose case sparked outrage around the world, Abdullah has now been moved to solitary confinement at a new facility and could be beheaded at any moment
3/8 Abdullah al-Zaher
His family and lawyers believe he was forced to sign a document without knowing its contents, and which later was used as a “confession” in the closed trial against him
4/8 Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr faces imminent beheading and crucifixion for crimes he reportedly committed as a child
5/8 Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
The UN has issued an urgent call for Saudi Arabia to halt his execution but a Saudi court has upheld the sentence of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, the son of a prominent government dissident, despite growing and high-level international condemnation
6/8 Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Mr al-Nimr, who was arrested in 2012 for his participation in Arab Spring protests when he was just 16 or 17 years old, could now be put to death at any time
7/8 Dawood al-Marhoon
Dawood al-Marhoon was 17 year old when he was arrested for participating in an anti-government protest
8/8 Dawood al-Marhoon
After refusing to spy on his fellow protesters, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer
Mr al-Nimr was a vocal supporter of the mass anti-government protests that flared up in the Saudi’s oil-rich Eastern Province in 2011, where a Shia majority have long complained of marginalisation. His execution led Yemen’s Houthi movement to mourn him as a “holy warrior”.
Despite condemning the executions earlier this year as “deeply deplorable” President François Hollande awarded his nation’s most prestigious award to the heir to the Saudi throne, Prince Mohammed bin Naif on Friday.
The Crown Prince’s visit to the Elysee Palace actually took place on Friday 4 March, the same day as Mr Hollande held talks with Angela Merkel about how to cope with the refugee crisis.
But while Ms Merkel’s trip featured in a number of videos and photos posted online by the Elysee social media team, any reference or evidence of the Saudi delegation was conspicuously absent.