London: The execution of 37 people convicted on "terrorism" charges marks an alarming escalation in Saudi Arabia's use of the death penalty, said Amnesty International today. Among those put to death was a young man who was convicted of a crime that took place while he was under the age of 18.
"Today's mass execution is 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 Shi'a minority," said Lynn Maalouf Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.
The majority of those executed were Shi'a men who were convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards which relied on confessions extracted through torture.
They include 11 men who were convicted of spying for Iran and sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial. At least 14 others executed were convicted of violent offences related to their participation in anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia's Shi'a majority Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012. The 14 men were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and told the court that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during their interrogation in order to have 'confessions' extracted from them.
Also among those executed is Abdulkareem al-Hawaj - a young Shi'a man who was arrested at the age of 16 and convicted of offences related to his involvement in anti-government protests. Under international law, the use of the death penalty against people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime is strictly prohibited.
Amnesty International understands that the families were not informed about the executions in advance and were shocked to learn of the news.
"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," said Lynn Maalouf.
All of those executed today were Saudi Arabian nationals. So far this year, at least 104 people have been executed by Saudi Arabia - at least 44 of them are foreign nationals, the majority of whom were convicted of drug-related crimes. In 2018, Saudi Arabia carried out 149 executions during the whole year.
"Instead of stepping up executions at an alarming rate in the name of countering terrorism, Saudi Arabia's must halt this bloody execution spree immediately and establish an official moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty completely," said Lynn Maalouf.
Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, from the Shi'a minority and who were below the age of 18 at the time of the crime, remain on death row and at imminent risk of execution.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, regardless of who is accused, the crime, their guilt or innocence or the method of execution.
US SILENCE DECRIED
Meanwhile Iran's foreign minister has lashed out at the administration of US President Donald Trump for staying tight-lipped on its ally Saudi Arabia's latest mass execution of its nationals, one of whom was crucified after beheading.
"After a wink at the dismembering of a journalist, not a whisper from the Trump administration when Saudi Arabia beheads 37 men in one day--even crucifying one two days after Easter," said Mohammad Javad Zarif in a tweet on Wednesday.
He was referring to Trump's support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is reported to have ordered the brutal assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
"Membership in the #B_team --Bolton, Bin Salman, Bin Zayed & 'Bibi-- gives immunity for any crime," said Zarif in a reference to the highly hawkish politicians, besides bin Salman, in the US, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, namely US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.