Saudi executions increase

THERE HAS been an alarming rise in the number of public executions in Saudi Arabia, according to the human rights organisation Amnesty International.

It said 105 people had been executed in the past year, more than four times the number during the same period in 1991-1992 and as against 11 in 1990-1991. The report, released today, said this was the second highest number of executions ever recorded by Amnesty International during a one-year period.

Amnesty expressed concern not only at the use of capital punishment, but also that victims were sentenced after what it called unfair trials. It noted that there was no bar association in Saudi Arabia and defence lawyers were not formally present during trials.

Amnesty also said it was concerned that, in accordance with the Saudi legal system, a defendant could be convicted on the sole basis of his or her confession. Amnesty expressed grave concern such 'confessions' could be obtained under duress, particurlarly since, it says, torture and ill-treatment are known to be commonly used against suspects.

Amnesty also reported Saudi Arabia had increased the number of offences where conviction could carry the death penalty.

Amnesty's wholesale objections to the use of the death penalty set it directly against a country whose legal basis for judicial execution is what its people regard as the sacred, unchangeable word of God as transmitted through the Prophet Mohamed. However, in other countries where Islamic huddud punishments are decreed, such as Sudan, they may only be applied after the most rigorous conditions for the defence are met.

The death penalty may be applied for apostasy, sabotage, and drug trafficking. According to Amnesty, of the 105 individuals executed in the past year, 55 were convicted of murder, four of whom were also convicted of rape; 38 were convicted on drugs charges, including one on charges of repeatedly brewing alcohol; six of rape or sodomy; three armed robbery; two of adultery; and one of apostasy.

Of these, 48 were Saudi citizens. The others included nationals of Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Sudan and the Philippines.