Without the knowledge of the victims’ families, the Saudi government today circulated awful news of the execution of 37 people, including minors, protestors, and the disabled. Many of them were linked to the Arab Spring protests that took place in Saudi Arabia, particular in the governorate of Qatif beginning on 17 February 2011. Others were charged by Saudi Arabia with spying for Iran, although most of the charges did not include evidence of actual acts of espionage.
Among the names were at least six minors: Abdullah Salman Al Sarih and Abdulkarim Mohammad al-Hawaj, whose charges go back to when they were 16 years of age, and Said Mohammad al-Sakafi, Salman Amin Al Quraysh, Mujtaba Nadir al-Sweiket, and Abdulaziz Hassan Al Sahwi, whose charges date back to when they were 17. There are also suspicions that others are likely minors, but the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) was unable to obtain further details.
Furthermore, among the shocking executions was Haidar Mohammad Al Laif, who according to Saudi Arabia – in its reply to the UN on 13 December 2017 – was given a final sentence of eight years.
Many of the charges leveled against the individuals whose executions were announced by the Ministry of Interior were not classified as serious or terroristic crimes. For example, there were charges related to the right to expression, peaceful protest, peaceful association, signing political statements, possessing political documents and information on political detainees. Similarly, some of them have been accused of spreading Shi’ism and practicing non-traditional religious activities involving Shiites in the governorate of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia.
The trials of most of the victims of today’s massacre, the details and proceedings of which the ESOHR has followed, have severely lacked the conditions for a fair trial. The trials have taken place in total secrecy and isolation from any of the victim’s relatives or in semi-secrecy, attended by only a few of the victim’s relatives – one to three at most. On the government’s part, select official media entities can attend, as well as members of executive agencies, such as the Mabahith (secret police), and members of the official human rights establishment. Meanwhile, no one from the public or members of civil society can be found at the trial.
In a report issued in February 2019 following a field visit to Saudi Arabia, the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emerson, called for “a prompt review of all current cases of prisoners charged and convicted of terrorist offenses who are facing the death penalty, in order to ensure that minimum international standards are met in each case.” He stressed that this means that the death penalty may not be imposed except for the most serious crimes leading to loss of life and may not be imposed on people who were minors at the time of their crimes or people with mental or cognitive disabilities. Ben Emerson’s report included a clear reference to those who were executed today, stating that when 24 people were brought to trial in June of 2016 because of pro-democracy protests in 2011, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced 14 of them to death. This again confirms that the trials did not fulfill the required legal processes and the standards of a fair trial and that the accused were subjected to torture and were not able to have a lawyer. This case is a source of serious concern.
The rapporteur also expressed particular concern vis-à-vis “a pattern of systematic oppression in the Eastern Province where most of the Shiite population lives,” noting that death sentences were issued against many members of the Shiite minority – who were facing imminent execution – for their participation in pro-democracy demonstrations in Eastern Province in 2011 and 2012.
The brutal executions carried out by Saudi Arabia today blatantly ignored the many urgent appeals of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs, and various committees. These appeals included many of the names of people who were killed by Saudi Arabia today:
With the executions today, the number of victims of execution since 2019 to today totals 105, while at this point in 2018 there were 48 executions. The rate has more than doubled by 50% compared to last year.
As stipulated in Saudi Arabia, executions are carried out only after the signature of the king or his deputy, which makes King Salman directly and explicitly responsible for the executions carried out today.
The ESOHR does not have information about some of the names mentioned as executed today. This goes back to the Saudi government’s closure of all spaces for civil society and the intimidation surrounding the families of the victims. The ESOHR also emphasizes the lack of confidence in the accounts offered by the state under the justification of “terrorism.”
The ESOHR believes that Saudi Arabia has entered into a bloody era since the ascension of King Salman and his Crown Prince and their absolute control over the country, both internally and externally. The first and most heinous manifestation of this internal control was the mass execution of 2 January 2016. This was followed by numerous crimes, culminating in today’s crime of executing 37 citizens – among them minors, the disabled, and demonstrators – on charges that fall within freedom and opinion and expression and are not classified as criminal.
After this heinous crime, the ESOHR calls for an international investigation to be opened in order to hold accountable all those responsible for the crimes and violations that have occurred. The ESOHR believes that this is the response that may bring this bloodshed to an end. The ESOHR also calls for a review of Saudi Arabia’s membership in various UN agencies and committees.
The ESOHR is raising profound concerns about dozens of people threatened with becoming victims of other executions in the future and advocates all legal means to save their lives.