"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Saudi Arabia: One of the World’s Most Prolific Executioners

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia remains one of the most prolific executioners in the world. Between January 1985 (the earliest year from when information on executions is available) and June 2015, it executed at least 2,200 people, almost half of whom were foreign nationals.

Over one-third of these executions were carried out for offenses that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law. Most of these crimes, such as drug-related offenses, are not mandatorily punishable by death according to the authorities’ interpretation of Sharia law.

Saudi Arabia also continues to sentence to death and execute individuals for crimes committed when they were below 18 years of age, in violation of the country’s obligations under international customary law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Also in violation of international law, the death penalty in Saudi Arabia continues to be used against people with mental disabilities.

The death penalty is also used disproportionately against foreign nationals, the majority of whom are migrant workers with no knowledge of Arabic—the language in which they are questioned while in detention and in which trial proceedings are carried out. They are often denied adequate interpretation assistance. Their country’s embassies and consulates are not promptly informed of their arrest, or even of their executions. In some cases, their families are neither notified in advance of the execution nor are their bodies returned to them to be buried.

The authorities recurrently fail to abide by international standards for fair trial and U.N. safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. Too often trials in death penalty cases are held in secret, and their proceedings are unfair and summary with no legal assistance or representation through the various stages of detention and trial. Defendants may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture or other ill-treatment, duress or deception.

The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to claim that they apply the death penalty only for the “most serious crimes” and only following the most rigorous and thorough judicial proceedings. They have argued that the death penalty is an integral component of Sharia law that guarantees the rights of perpetrators and victims alike, and that the death penalty and public executions serve as a deterrent to crime. The authorities’ claims on the use of the death penalty contradict its practice in reality.

Foreign nationals, particularly migrant workers from disadvantaged economic backgrounds who moved to Saudi Arabia from countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, comprise a high and disproportionate number of those executed in Saudi Arabia. Of the total 2,208 executions recorded between January 1985 and June 2015, at least 1,072, or some 48.5 percent, were of foreign nationals. During their trial, their foreign nationality and the fact that they often lack Arabic language skills place them in a particularly disadvantageous position.


Source: Newsweek, Op-Ed, Amnesty International, August 24, 2015

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