The Saudi Arabian government is employing the death penalty as a political weapon to silence dissent, said Amnesty International, following the execution of four Shi’a men in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on 11 July.
Yussuf Ali al-Mushaikass, a father of two, was executed along with three other men, for terror-related offences in connection with their participation in anti-government protests in the Shi’a majority Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012. He was convicted of offences that included “armed rebellion against the ruler”, “destabilizing security and stirring sedition by joining a terrorist group”, “firing at a police station in Awamiyya twice, resulting in the injury of a policeman” and “participating in riots”. Yussuf al-Mushaikass’ family were reportedly not informed of the execution in advance, only finding out about it afterwards when they saw a government statement read on TV.
“These brutal executions are the latest act in the Saudi Arabian authorities’ ongoing persecution of the Shi’a minority. The death penalty is being deployed as a political weapon to punish them for daring to protest against their treatment and to cow others into silence,” said Lynn Maalouf, Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut office.
“Yussuf al-Mushaikass was convicted following a grossly unfair trial which hinged largely on a ‘confession’ obtained through torture. The international community must come down hard on Saudi Arabia to ensure that others currently facing execution after deeply flawed legal proceedings do not meet the same fate. Saudi Arabia should quash their death sentences and establish an official moratorium on executions.”
Amnesty International has documented the cases of at least 34 other Shi’a men currently sentenced to death. All were accused of activities deemed a risk to national security and handed death sentences by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), a notorious counter-terror tribunal. Amongst those currently on death row are four Saudi Arabian nationals who were convicted of offences committed while teenagers.
Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon, who were arrested individually in 2012 aged 17, 16 and 17 respectively, have exhausted all of their appeals and are at risk of being executed at any time.
On 10 July, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj had his death sentence upheld on appeal. He was found guilty of crimes committed when he was 16.
The four young men were convicted of security-related offences after taking part in anti-government protests. In all four cases the SCC appears to have based its decision on “confessions” the young men say were extracted through torture and other ill-treatment, allegations that the court failed to order investigations into.
Spike in executions
The execution of Yussuf al-Mushaikass and the three other men are the latest in a spike of executions in the Kingdom since Ramadan, which has seen 15 people put to death, with 13 in the past three days alone. So far in 2017, 55 people have been executed in the country.
“The Saudi Arabian government is showing no signs of letting up in its use of the death penalty and has employed it vigorously since the traditional pause for Ramadan,” said Lynn Maalouf.
“The death penalty continues to be used in violation of international human rights law and standards on a massive scale, and often after trials which are grossly unfair and sometimes politically motivated.”
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.
Saudi Arabia is one of the top executioners in the world, with more than 2,000 people executed between 1985 and 2016, at a time when 141 countries in the world are abolitionist in law or practice, including 105 countries that have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Amnesty International renews its calls on the authorities to immediately establish a moratorium on all executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty.