As we have heard, yesterday saw the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia since January 2016, in which 37 people were killed. According to the official Saudi press agency, the men were executed:
“for adopting terrorist and extremist thinking and for forming terrorist cells to corrupt and destabilise security”.
They were arrested after four Islamic State gunmen attacked a Saudi security compound in Riyadh, but the Saudi authorities have still not made clear whether those arrested were linked to the attacks.
Publicly pinning one of the headless bodies to a pole as a warning is not only disturbingly barbaric and medieval in nature, but an abhorrent violation of human rights. According to the families of those executed, there was no prior notice that the executions would be carried out. That is a blatant flouting of international standards set out by even the most brutal of regimes that still use the death penalty. We know that some, if not all, of those executed were convicted in Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court, which has been widely condemned by human rights groups as secretive, and which has in the past been used to try human rights activists, whom the state often wrongly regards as terrorists.
We also know that at least three of those executed were juveniles—a clear violation of international law, which the Saudi regime appears to care very little about. Abdulkarim al-Hawaj was charged with participating in demonstrations, incitement via social media and preparing banners with anti-state slogans. Reports from human rights watchdogs in the country claim that he was beaten and the so-called confessions extracted from him through various means of torture. Mujtaba al-Sweikat was a student about to begin his studies at Western Michigan University when he was arrested at King Fahd airport, beaten and so-called confessions extracted through torture. Salman Qureish was just 18 when he was executed, but he was convicted of crimes that allegedly took place when he was still a child. The UN has condemned his sentencing and the use of the death penalty against him after he was denied basic legal rights, such as access to a lawyer.
Saudi Arabia has executed more than 100 people already this year. If it continues, the number of executions this year alone will reach over 300. Human rights group Reprieve says that five of the prisoners it supported were executed yesterday. Many were forced to stand in stress positions for hours and deprived of sleep until a confession was extracted.
These executions have caused a breakdown in Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran and has the potential to destabilise the region further, so what discussions has the Minister had with his Saudi counterpart since the executions took place? Will the Government condemn the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia today? Will the Government call for an immediate end to executions in Saudi Arabia? Finally, what plans do the Government have to tackle the use of violence against human rights activists in Saudi Arabia?