(Beirut) – Saudi authorities have carried out 100 executions since January 1, compared with 88 in all of 2014. Of the 2015 executions, 47 were for nonviolent drug offenses.
“Saudi authorities have been on a campaign of death this year, executing more people in six months than all of the previous year,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “It’s bad enough that Saudi Arabia executes so many people, but to execute people convicted in nonviolent drug offenses shows just how wanton these executions are.”
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Arabia’s state news agency, said in news releases that only 14 of the 100 prisoners executed so far in 2015 were convicted of Hadd (“limit”) crimes for which Islamic law mandates a specific punishment, including the death penalty, while 30 were sentenced under the Islamic law concept of Qisas, or eye-for-an-eye retribution for murder. Judges based their sentences for the other 56, including the 47 for drug-related crimes, on judicial discretion. Saudi Arabia has no penal code; thus for many crimes for which people are convicted, what constitutes a crime, the proof required to prove it, and the sentence it carries are entirely up to a judge to decide.
Of the 100 executed, 57 were Saudi citizens. Pakistanis – 14 of them convicted on heroin smuggling charges – formed the largest group among the foreigners.
International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances. In 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions stated that where used, the death penalty should be limited to cases in which a person is intentionally killed and not used to punish drug-related offenses.
Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system that makes it difficult for a defendant to get a fair trial even in capital cases. In cases Human Rights Watch has analyzed, authorities did not always inform suspects of the charges against them or allow them access to evidence, even after trial sessions began. Authorities generally did not allow lawyers to assist suspects during interrogation and often impeded them from examining witnesses and presenting evidence at trial.
The Death Penalty Worldwide Database, which collects information on executions across the globe, shows that Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world, and applies the death penalty to a range of offenses that do not constitute “most serious crimes,” including drug offenses, adultery, sorcery, and apostasy. Saudi Arabia trails only Iran in the Middle East for executing the most people each year. Since the start of 2015 Saudi Arabia’s neighbor, Iran, has reportedly executed more than 340 prisoners, with as many as 98 hanged between April 9 and 28 alone, according to UN rights experts.
Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.
In 2013, following similar resolutions in 2007, 2008, and 2010, the UN General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also called on countries to abolish the death penalty.