Saudi Arabia carries out 'chilling' mass execution of 37 people for 'terrorism offences'

Most of those convicted were members of Saudi Arabia's Shia minority

Richard Hall
Middle East correspondent
Tuesday 23 April 2019 20:52
Saudi news presenter reads interior ministry statement following mass execution of 37 people for 'terrorism offences'

Saudi Arabia executed 37 people for terror offences on Tuesday, the country’s interior minister said, in one of the largest mass executions in recent years.

Human Rights Watch described the punishment as "grotesque," and said the news represented a "day we have feared."

The country’s state news agency said the Saudi nationals were guilty of “adopting extremist terrorist ideologies and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disrupt security as well as spread chaos and provoke sectarian strife.”

The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives and killing a number of security officers, the Interior Ministry said. It added that the executions were carried out by beheading, and that authorities pinned two of the bodies to a pole as a warning to others.

The killings were quickly condemned by Human Rights Watch, which said that most of the convicted were members of the country’s persecuted Shia minority.

“Today's mass execution of mostly Shia citizens is a day we have feared for several years. The punishments are especially grotesque when they result from a flawed justice system that ignores torture allegations," said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at HRW.

Amnesty International called the execution "a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities callous disregard for human life."

"It is also yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shia minority," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“The use of the death penalty is always appalling but it is even more shocking when it is applied after unfair trials or against people who were under 18 at the time of the crime, in flagrant violation of international law.," she added.

Shia citizens of Saudi Arabia, who make up 10-15 per cent of the country's population, have longed complained of discrimination at the hands of Saudi authorities.

In 2017, deadly clashes broke out between Saudi security forces and Shia militants in the country’s east following demolitions in the Shia town of Awamiya. At least 20 civilians were killed.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top executioners, behind only China and Iran. While executions have fallen worldwide in recent years, Saudi Arabia has seen an increase, and looks set to break records in 2019. It carried out 149 executions in 2018.

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So far this year the Kingdom has executed 59 people, according to Death Penalty Worldwide. The new deaths bring the year’s tally to 96, which puts it on course to surpass the 157 executions it carried out in 2015 – the highest number for decades.

Foreign nationals often account for a high proportion of executions in Saudi Arabia. Among those killed in 2019 were three female foreign nationals from Nigeria, the Philippines, and Pakistan. Around half of those executed in 2018 were believed to be foreign.

Tuesday's mass execution ranks among the highest in recent years. In January 2016, Saudi Arabia carried out its largest since 1980 when it beheaded 47 people for terrorism offences.

With agencies

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