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People gather around the symbolic graves of Jaafar Sultan (left) and Sadeq Thamer, in Bahrain.    © 2023 zainab_alaradii/Twitter

Two Bahraini Shi’a men have been executed in Saudi Arabia following what Amnesty International described as a “grossly unfair trial” on terrorism-related charges.

Jaafar Sultan and Sadeq Thamer were arrested in May 2015 and held incommunicado for more than three months, according to Amnesty International. The charges were related to allegations of smuggling explosives inside Saudi Arabia and participating in protests in Bahrain.

The two Bahrainis were tried and sentenced to death in Saudi’s notorious Specialized Criminal Court in October 2021 following protest-related charges that fall within the Saudi counterterrorism law.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, continue to use overbroad provisions contained within terrorism laws to suppress dissent and target religious minorities.

Counterterrorism laws in the GCC typically include broad, vague charges and definitions of terrorism used as catch-all provisions to punish peaceful dissidents, political activists, and human rights defenders.

Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim minority has long suffered systemic discrimination and been targeted by state-funded hate speech. On March 12, 2022, Saudi Arabian authorities executed 81 men, 41 of whom are said to belong to the Shi’a Muslim minority, under its counterterrorism law, despite promises to curtail executions.

Bahrain’s Shi’a majority also suffers from discrimination. Bahraini authorities have systematically targeted Shia clerics and have violently arrested numerous human rights defenders with Shia backgrounds, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja in April 2011, who they sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial under Bahrain’s terrorism law.

Overly broad terrorism charges have also been exploited by other Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) sentenced Khalaf Abdul Rahman al-Romaithi to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges following a grossly unfair trial known as the “UAE94” mass trials of 94 critics of the Emirati government. Al-Romaithi was recently extradited from Jordan to the UAE.

Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding violations of due process and fair trial rights in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, making it unlikely that Sultan and Thamer received a fair trial leading up to their execution. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all countries and under all circumstances as a cruel and inhumane punishment.

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